PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 5-11: Everything 20 Years Old Is New Again

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 5-11: Everything 20 Years Old Is New Again Who would ever have thought that the final year of the Carter administration, best remembered for a pervading national malaise and the Iranian hostage crisis, was one of the golden ages of Broadway? Or so the recent decisions of Broadway producers would have us believe. Nearly every other revival announced in the last several months hails from a narrow time frame beginning in 1979 and ending with the first year or two of Reagan's tenure.
Patti LuPone and Peter Gallagher in Noises Off, Jonathan Freedman and Mary Testa in 42nd Street, David Suchet in Amadeus.
Patti LuPone and Peter Gallagher in Noises Off, Jonathan Freedman and Mary Testa in 42nd Street, David Suchet in Amadeus. (Photo by Photos by Joan Marcus)

Who would ever have thought that the final year of the Carter administration, best remembered for a pervading national malaise and the Iranian hostage crisis, was one of the golden ages of Broadway? Or so the recent decisions of Broadway producers would have us believe. Nearly every other revival announced in the last several months hails from a narrow time frame beginning in 1979 and ending with the first year or two of Reagan's tenure.

Broadway observers have already witnessed, and not without bemusement, the seemingly too-hasty resurrections of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing (a 1984 Broadway offering), Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (1980), Michael Frayn's Noises Off (1983) and the musical 42nd Street (1980) — and then watched them blossom into hits once again.

And the spring brings more. 1980's The Elephant Man is back, with Billy Crudup as the Human-being-not-an-animal in question. News came this week that he will be joined by Kate Burton and Rupert Graves. And Lincoln Center Theater is bringing back Paul Osborn's comedy Morning's at Seven, which, even though it was written in 1939, was truly born in 1980 when a Broadway revival pulled it out of obscurity. Elizabeth Franz, Frances Sternhagen and Estelle Parsons have been cast in the production, which will be directed by Daniel Sullivan.

Wait. It doesn't stop there. I'm Not Rappaport, a smash in 1985, is touring the nation with its original star, Judd Hirsch, and original director, Daniel Sullivan; the 1982 musical Nine is being considered by the Roundabout Theatre Company; and Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981) and Sunday in the Park with George (1983) will be given productions at the Kennedy Center this summer. Deathtrap anyone?

Speaking of 42nd Street, the most high-profile disappearing act in ages was pulled off on New Year's Eve by Christine Ebersole, the show's Tony-winning star of the praised chanteuse of a sold-out run at Arci's Place. Ebersole took a leave of absence from 42nd Street beginning Dec. 31. All told, she'll be gone 8-10 weeks. Additionally, she canceled all her January dates at Arci's. No reason was given for her leave, which comes at what is arguably the high point of her career. News about another revival: Into the Woods gave the press a sneak preview on Jan. 8. There, director-librettist James Lapine revealed how the show, which is only 14 years old, would be different this time around. Among the changes are a new song for the Witch, a more active Narrator, two Wolves instead of one, and the inclusion of the Three Little Pigs. But the most significant alteration is that Into the Woods — in its original form one of the least dancingest shows in musical history — will be replete with movement and choreography.

Every week seems to bring some news about Proof, surely by now one the most phenomenally successful plays in American theatre history. And what better or more surreal gauge of the Pulitzer Prize winner's worldwide success than the news that the David Auburn drama this month had its Philippine premiere on Jan. 9 in Manila, with none other in the leading role that Miss Miss Saigon Lea Salonga? While Filipino theatregoers were taking in his handiwork, Auburn himself was busy directing his own play in Florida. The playwright has decided to make his debut as director at the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The production will begin Jan. 29.

In England, every major artistic director simultaneously chose 2001 to announce his or her retirement, and since then all the theatre community can do is guess at who will take up all these vacated posts. Two of the mysteries were solved Jan. 10. Michael Attenborough is to be the new artistic director of the Almeida Theatre. Attenborough, son of actor-director Richard (Lord) Attenborough, has worked at Hampstead Theatre and the Young Vic and, for the last decade, with the RSC. Matthew Warchus, meanwhile, will assume leadership of the Old Vic. Warchus is well known on both sides of the ocean for his productions of Art and True West. That leaves the Donmar Warehouse and Hampstead Theatre still to select a new leader; Nicholas Hytner won the top spot at the Royal National Theatre last September.

And, finally, Starlight Express never meant a hell of a lot to U.S. theatre audiences. It had a healthy enough run on Broadway, but mostly critics and patrons laughed at the little-train-that-could, roller-derby hybrid as a joke. In London, however, the show ran and ran, eventually becoming Andrew Lloyd Webber's second-longest-running hit (after Cats (everything comes after Cats). For the last two decades, there was no reason to go to the Apollo Victoria Theatre unless you wanted to see anthropomorphized choo-choos race round and round. On Jan. 12, the musical will finally come to an halt. Those who want theatre with trains or no theatre at all are advised to travel to (ahem) Germany, where it still plays at a specially-built theatre in Bochum.

—By Robert Simonson