PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 1-7: Plays Pay

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 1-7: Plays Pay The average Broadway producers' mania for backing musicals, and avoiding new plays like the plague, would seem to tell us that musicals are the product most likely to line these moneymen's pockets. But, in recent season, when one hears the word "recoup," it is invariably connected to a drama, the type of theatrical venture that is supposedly -- if you listen to certain parties -- a no-win, no-money back situation. This week, news came that both True West and Copenhagen had paid back their investments. The latter reclaimed its $1.5 capitalization in roughly three months.

The average Broadway producers' mania for backing musicals, and avoiding new plays like the plague, would seem to tell us that musicals are the product most likely to line these moneymen's pockets. But, in recent season, when one hears the word "recoup," it is invariably connected to a drama, the type of theatrical venture that is supposedly -- if you listen to certain parties -- a no-win, no-money back situation. This week, news came that both True West and Copenhagen had paid back their investments. The latter reclaimed its $1.5 capitalization in roughly three months.

Those two hits follow in the footsteps of other plays in recent years which also made their money back in double time. Back in 1996, David Hare's Skylight recouped in six weeks. In 1998, Art, The Judas Kiss and The Beauty Queen of Leenane all brought in a speedy profit, followed by the Nicole Kidman-fueled The Blue Room. Meanwhile, it's hard to remember the last time a new musical ran into the black (Rent, most likely). Footloose, which just closed after almost two years without earning its keep, is more the rule. Producers are, perhaps, looking for long-running cash cows like Phantom and Les Miz. But when was the last time that happened? Only revivals, like Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun (and, eventually, one would imagine, Kiss Me, Kate) seem to do the trick.

Theatre, however, has never been a business that made much sense. So, it comes as no surprise that, as we look toward that fall, what we see are lots and lots of costly musicals. With so many new tuners, at least one had to run into some trouble, and this week, one did. Little Women, the new show based on the Louisa May Alcott novel, slated for the Ambassador Theatre in November, postponed both its Gotham and pre-Broadway runs. The problems stemmed, not surprisingly, from producers Randall L. Wreghitt and Dani Davis' cutting loose the original composing team of lyricist Allison Hubbard and composer Kim Oler. Composer Jason Howland and lyricist Mindi Dickstein were then handed the songwriting duties. The producers hope to bring the show in by April 2001.

Manhattan Theatre Club's Proof is proving to be a real bruiser. In its determination to reach Broadway, this Little Play That Could by neophyte dramatic David Auburn is brooking no obstacles. When it looked like the drama would lose its star, Mary-Louise Parker, because Parker had pledged herself to the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Desire Under the Elms, MTC dug in and succeeded in retaining the movie star, causing the Roundabout to scrap the O'Neill project altogether. Then, in its pursuit of the coveted Walter Kerr Theatre, Proof reportedly found itself competing for the space with The Dinner Party, by little-known playwright, Neil Simon. Decision: Auburn. Let this serve as a warning to other presumptuous plays not to mess with Proof.

The Roundabout quickly regained its footing after abandoning Desire Under the Elms. Director David Leveaux, set to stage Desire, will now mount Harold Pinter's Betrayal, Oct. 20-Jan. 14, 2001. No cast has been announced, but doubtless the theatre will tap some worthy names to fill the drama's three meaty roles. The July 4th weekend precluded much activity in the New York theatre world. There was, however, one important opening, the Public Theater's Central Park production of A Winter's Tale. The venture wasn't promising on paper. Hardly summer fare, Shakespeare's odd, often chilly late-career play is famously difficult to stage, its personality divided between a pitch-black tragedy of revenge and tyranny, and a rustic comedy of yokels and tricksters -- not to mention such famously surreal stage moments as the entrance of a bear and the transformation of a statue into living flesh. Yet, director Brian Kulick, armed with a stunning scenic and lighting design and a cast deep in skilled, veteran actors, came through with a hit at the Delacorte - a relatively rare thing. Kulick had similar luck with a 1996 park production of the Bard's equally troublesome Timon of Athens. So, shall we say Cymbeline for next summer?