PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 9-15: News From the Field

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 9-15: News From the Field This week was replete with news from big-budget shows suiting up for spring-training—stretching in minor league play out-of-town; making last-minute deals for key players; naming their final line-ups; selling their team to the press—all in preparation for the big game to take place in Times Square this April.
Brian Stokes Mitchell leaves Kiss Me, Kate for King Hedley II; Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt make a new musical; Kate Burton in Hedda Gabler.
Brian Stokes Mitchell leaves Kiss Me, Kate for King Hedley II; Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt make a new musical; Kate Burton in Hedda Gabler. (Photo by <i>Kate</i> photo by Joan Marcus; Kate Burton by Richard Feldman; Jones by Aubrey Reuben)

This week was replete with news from big-budget shows suiting up for spring-training—stretching in minor league play out-of-town; making last-minute deals for key players; naming their final line-ups; selling their team to the press—all in preparation for the big game to take place in Times Square this April.

Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets began performances in Toronto on Jan. 9. The London hit will stay there for six weeks before descending on the Golden Theatre. Jones' neighbor on West 45th Street, at the Plymouth, will be the new revival of Bells Are Ringing. Martin Moran, Robert Ari and Jeffrey Bean were added to the cast, completing an acting troupe to be headed by Faith Prince and Marc Kudisch. The pre-Broadway run in Stamford is set for Feb. 20-25. Meanwhile, initial casting was announced for the upcoming Broadway production of 42nd Street at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Playing the fictional musical-comedy writers Bert Barry and Maggie Jones will be Jonathan Freeman and Mary Testa, an actress (The Wax, Tartuffe, Marie Christine) who is seemingly never out of work.

On Jan. 11, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman and all the gang from that most highly anticipated of musicals, The Producers, put on a show for the press, and, by all accounts, sent the city's arbiters of taste away wanting more. But, by far the most dramatic news from an incoming show was the casting of Brian Stokes Mitchell in August Wilson's King Hedley II. The producers had been negotiating with Charles S. Dutton and, if reports in the dailies are to be believed, the signing of Mitchell—known for his winning musical turns in Ragtime and Kiss Me, Kate—saved the play from having to delay its Broadway run until the fall.

Good news for King Hedley II, however, may have been bad news for the Nicholas Martin-Kate Burton Hedda Gabler, which just netted some great reviews in Boston and had pinned its hopes on a Broadway theatre becoming free before Tony time. The crowning of Mitchell as King Hedley cast may push Hedda into fall 2001, showing that sometimes you can't get a booking, even with a gun.

There was also some Broadway rumblings from shows about which nearly everyone had forgotten. Lo and behold, By Jeeves has risen from the dead in the West—Pittsburgh, that is—and has its eye on the Big Apple. The revised version of the 1975 Andrew Lloyd Webber Alan Ayckbourn musical was first seen at Goodspeed Musicals' Norris Terris Theatre in Chester, CT, in 1997. It then played L.A. and D.C. and tried valiantly to break into Broadway in early 1998, though to no avail. Now it's back at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, with Ayckbourn directing, and NYC is again the ultimate goal. We'll see if the new century brings the show better luck than did the last. News, too, came from a once—and perhaps, still—hopeful spring candidate, Harold Prince's triple-decker musical, 3hree. The cast of the trio of one-act musicals gathered in the recording studio Jan. 9 and 11. Speculation has the show in talks for a regional run at the Ahmanson in L.A., but nothing is confirmed. Down in the heart of Texas, a musical Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt began in the 1960's is finally getting its premiere. Roadside is based on the play of the same name by Lynn Riggs (who also wrote Green Grow the Lilacs, which inspired Oklahoma!). Way back when, the composing team wrote a few songs for the show, made a demo recording, but never got the rights to the material and shelved the project. Dan Shaheen persuaded the writers to secure the rights and finish the show. Jones penned a new book and lyrics for the 14 new songs by composer Schmidt. The musical will begin previews at Irving, Texas' Lyric Stage on Feb. 16.

Finally, the nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General isn't the only bizarre idea to come out of the nascent administration of George W. Bush. The Andrew Lloyd Webber office in New York revealed that the composer and writer Ben Elton have been asked to present highlights of their London musical, The Beautiful Game, at the inaugural gala. Typically, inaugurals are filled with all-American entertainment, brass bands, country stars, jazz greats, classical giants and the like. The Beautiful Game is set in Belfast and concerns the members of an amateur soccer team playing during the height of the Irish Troubles. Most producers agree that the material is so culture specific, it will never transfer to New York. Politics may have had something to do with the show's inclusion in the D.C. festivities. Ben Elton said, "When we wrote The Beautiful Game we wanted to cover issues that could come out of the conflicts in Kosovo and Afghanistan as much as Northern Ireland." Nothing about Florida in that quote, but you get the drift.

—By Robert Simonson