PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 17-23: Splash!

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 17-23: Splash! The opening of The Frogs at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont was the event of the week.

The show has been hotly anticipated for months, mainly due to the top echelon talents attached. Stephen Sondheim provided the score. Susan Stroman served as director and choreographer. And Nathan Lane was not only star, but co-librettist, adapting Burt Shevelove's 1974 script. But as Elaine Stritch said about her experience on the 1959 show Goldilocks, which had Robert Whitehead producing, Walter and Jean Kerr writing and Agnes DeMille choreographing—"You'd think—right?" Reviews were not overly admiring of the collaboration, though almost every critique had a different set of complaints. Looking through our handy 20-20 hindsight goggles, it's easy to see that it would have been a show business miracle of Herculean proportions if the show had been a home run. The source material was a 2,500-year-old Greek play. Lane was taking on what is arguably the hardest job in the musical theatre—bookwriter—for the first time, all while concentrating on putting together the lead performance. Sondheim had to compose a new raft of songs that would mesh well with material he created 30 years ago. Plus, the piece is essentially political satire—and we all know how well that goes over in this town.

***

A few seasons back, Lincoln Center Theater's production of Jon Robin Baitz's Ten Unknowns was supposed to transfer to Broadway. That never happened. But now there's new hope that the playwright may soon receive his very-long-in-coming Broadway debut. Jonathan Kent is slated to this spring bring in Baitz's The Paris Letter, which the grapevine has promoted as his best play to date. The work centers on a Wall Street hotshot whose past catches up with him. Ron Rifkin starred in a previous reading. Baitz made Rifkin a star when he wrote him a juicy part in The Substance of Fire. It would make for a nice irony if Rifkin, now known to millions through television's "Alias," now made Baitz a star in return.

***

The Tony-winning actresses of Raisin in the Sun have moved on. Phylicia Rashad will star in August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. The play, directed by Marion McClinton, will begin previews at a Jujamcyn theatre on Oct. 22 and open Nov. 11. Gem, which has already had a couple of regional productions, will next be staged in Boston at the Huntington Theatre Company, Sept. 10-Oct. 10.

Meanwhile, composer and chief interpreter met again this week when Audra McDonald began performances in Michael John LaChiusa's R Shomon at the Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage. LaChiusa's modern retelling of the Medea story, Marie Christine, produced at Lincoln Center Theater in 1999, provided the four-time Tony-winner McDonald with her sole leading Broadway role to date. R Shomon is drawn from the short stories of Ryonsuke Akutagawa (also the inspiration the classic Kurosawa film "Rashomon"). Williamstown productions often find their way to New York City. Should Tony winner McDonald remain attached to the project, that would seem a likely fate for R Shomon.

***

Finally, here's an interesting new measure of how seriously producers now take the once scrappy New York International Fringe Festival: shows are now staging out-of-town tryouts before hitting their Fringe-designated hole-in-the-wall. The Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls, New York, ends its 10th season with Annie Golden in Mimi Le Duck, a world premiere musical by Diana Hansen-Young and Brian Feinstein which will then move to the Festival. And Africa & Plumbridge, an original musical inspired by Chicagoans, has its pre-Fringe debut at Theatre Building Chicago July 22-Aug. 8.