While Broadway continues to search for its first successful new play of 1999-2000 -- by the looks of the reviews, Wrong Mountain isn't it -- Off-Broadway continues to turn them out at a pretty good clip. Add to Fully Committed, Fuddy Meers, Into the Blood, Trudy Blue and Dinner with Friends (all of which have had good runs, to one degree or another, a couple of them transferring to commercial engagements, other merely extending), Claudia Shear's new play Dirty Blonde.
Dirty Blonde has, arguably, received the most joyous reviews of the season -- not surprisingly, since the show exhibits qualities of kindness, generosity, good-willed humor and insight rarely seen in serious drama these days. The play has not been extended, but rumors are rife that it will shoot straight to Broadway. The Shubert Organization contributed to the development of Shear's piece and would likely be the party to handle any transfer. If Broadway is in Blonde's future, a possible house would be the Shubert's Barrymore Theatre, to be abandoned by Putting It Together on Feb. 20, with no successor yet named. Sources had Shubert honcho Gerald Schoenfeld juggling several scenarios at press time.
Meanwhile, two long-standing Broadway institutions close this week. As for the first, people called it Ragtime. Sumptuous and serious-minded, and playing to 80 percent up until the final week, it was nonetheless the child of the late Livent's erstwhile producer, the spendthrift Garth Drabinsky, and burdened with a very high weekly break even point. Talk of a pared-down version of the musical opening at another Broadway house has died off for now.
The second long-runner to shutter is Smokey Joe's Cafe, the Leiber and Stoller revue which shrugged off bad reviews and went on to play for nearly five years, making it the nineteenth longest running show in Broadway history. And while the critics may not have liked it, the cast seemed to. What else to make of the fact that seven members of the original line-up are still with the production, including Victor Trent Cook, B.J. Crosby, Brenda Braxton, Ken Ard, Adrian Bailey, Frederick B. Owens and the wonderfully named DeLee Lively? Loyalty has its benefits. This particular troupe learned, for instance, that if you stay in the same place for long enough, you'll cross paths with Gladys Knight, Ben E. King, Rick Springfield, Lou Rawls, Leslie Gore and Gloria Gaynor.
Of course, the cast now has to find new jobs for the first time in half a decade. One already has: Owens, the deepest voice in the Leiber-Stoller revue, will take on another rock bass role -- that of Caiphas in the upcoming Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar He will conspire against Glenn Carter, hired to play Jesus. Another long-running show issued a surprise closing notice. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, nearly two years at Off-Broadway Jane Street Theatre, will play its last gig Jan. 30. Many parties will likely point to Ally Sheedy -- the first and only woman to play the rock musical's title transvestite -- as speeding along Hedwig's demise. The film star parted ways with Hedwig Dec. 12, two months before her contract was up. The official word was that Sheedy had to leave the show early, and "the producers agreed to let her go." But Sheedy disruptive activities on stage (dropping songs, ad-libbing lines) were widely reported.
The silver lining: Hedwig co-creator and original star John Cameron Mitchell will not let his baby go before sneaking in a few more star turns in the show that, in one fell swoop, transformed him from esteemed actor to esteemed actor-singer-recording artist-author-film director. Mitchell performs Jan. 27, 28 and 29.
Across the Atlantic, the nominations for the Laurence Olivier Awards spelled good fortune for several shows due to make the journey West. The two leads of the Donmar Warehouse revival of The Real Thing (due at the Belasco this spring), Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane, received nominations, as did the director, David Leveaux. Mamma Mia!, the ABBA-musical due in Montreal in May, with a New York bow to possibly follow, was nominated for best musical. And Rose, the Martin Sherman play which starred Olympia Dukakis, was nomination as best play. Rose may reach the Lyceum on Broadway in March, courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater.
Britisher Andrew Lloyd Webber was in a magnanimous mood this week. The composer and jillionaire bought ten theatres in the Stoll Moss Theatre Group for $145 million, making him the biggest theatre owner in London, with nearly a third of the West End in his hands. No doubt, Lloyd Webber expects to become even more rich than he is by this venture, but the way he told it, his land grab was inspired by only the most selfless reasons.
Announcing the news, Lloyd Webber said he had acted in order to keep West End theatre "in the hands that it should be kept in, and not in the hands of pen-pushers and number-crunchers." He had been worried, he said, that the businessmen interested in the group "wouldn't necessarily understand the thing about the theatre is you have got to take risks."
Back in New York, it seems the unending economic boom may soon rob the metropolis of any areas which might be called fringe neighborhoods -- or, at the very least, neighborhoods where a fringe festival can afford to operate. Just a couple years ago, The Present Company, which produces the three-year-old New York International Fringe Festival, relocated to a sprawling garage on the Lower East Side. One would think, on the lonely and unpretty block of Stanton Street between Ridge and Attorney Streets, the troupe would be safe from encroaching gentrification and the high rents it engenders. But no, these days, even the far reaches of the Lower East Side are hot and the Present Company is now in the fight for it and the Fringe's lives. The company's landlord recently presented the scrappy artists with a rent bill, top heavy with late fees, for ten of thousands of dollars. Artistic director John Clancy is refuting the landlord's charges and staging a "$100,000 or bust" campaign. If not successful, New York will most likely find its August Fringe-free this year.
Perhaps Clancy could get Lord Lloyd-Webber, that bane of pen-pushers and number-crunchers, to pay the bill.
--By Robert Simonson