PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 22-28: Dinner Theatre

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 22-28: Dinner Theatre The American Airlines Theatre has landed.
A scene from Songs From the Tall Grass.
A scene from Songs From the Tall Grass. (Photo by Photo by Stan Barouh)

The American Airlines Theatre has landed.

The Roundabout Theatre Company officially opened its latest -- and, one would think, final -- home this week when it inaugurated the beautifully restored former Selwyn Theatre with a lavish new production of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's The Man Who Came to Dinner. The official unveiling completes 42nd Street's rebirth as the theatre mecca it once was. With the New Amsterdam, the New Victory, the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and, now, the AA Theatre, the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues is inarguably home to the most beautiful theatre real estate in the country. It's enough to make you forget the neighboring 50 or so movie screens and the carnivalesque Mexican restaurant that is, for some reason, named Chevy's.

The old Selwyn was to have opened this past spring with Uncle Vanya, but construction delays sent the Chekhov play to the Brooks Atkinson. In the end, it was perhaps more appropriate to raise the curtain on the new digs of one of America's preeminent theatre companies, not with a Russian classic populated by British theatre stars Derek Jacobi and Roger Rees, but with a Yankee chestnut featuring Broadway's reigning male theatre star, Nathan Lane.

(The theatre may currently be haunted by the right ghosts: Kaufman's Helen of Troy, New York played the Selwyn, as did both Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward, who are parodied in Dinner.)

Dinner -- which also stars Jean Smart, Lewis J. Stadlen and Byron Jennings -- opened mainly to critical valentines, save for one august broadsheet which shall remain nameless. New York had two other notable openings. Bill C. Davis' first city premiere in some time, Avow, with Jack Hofsiss directing Jane Powell, bowed at the Century Center. And Rebecca Gilman finally made her NYC debut at Lincoln Center Theatre with Spinning into Butter. Gilman is currently the playwright of the moment and Butter -- her controversial play about political correctness at a small Vermont college -- has inspired more weighty discussion than anything else this summer. It's likely Gilman will remain on theatregoers' lips for some time to come; another play, Boy Gets Girl, is due to play at Manhattan Theatre Club this coming season. And her latest, The Great Baseball Strike of 1994, will have its premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in spring of 2001, it was announced. That will make four Goodman seasons in a row to have featured a work by this Chicago resident. Manhattan Theatre Club confirmed what PBOL reported weeks ago, that David Auburn's Proof would re-open at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre on Oct. 10. In other MTC news, it looks like the musical Time and Again will resurface as part of the nonprofit's 2000-2001 schedule. The show, written by composer-lyricist Walter Edgar Kennon and librettist Jack Viertel, is based on Jack Finney's popular time-traveling book. Not much was heard about the once Broadway-bound project after the Old Globe Theatre staging in 1996, directed by Jack O'Brien and starring Rebecca Luker and Howard McGillin. Then, in 1999, a workshop production was mounted in New York with new stars, Brian D'Arcy James and Laura Benanti, new director Susan H. Schulman and new choreographer Kathleen Marshall. The latter two will likely remain for the MTC version.

Lastly, the upcoming Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show continues to make news with its surprising choices vis a vis its creative team. No casting has been announced, but names being bandied about (Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lea DeLaria, David Bowie) sound like the members of some as-yet-unmade John Waters film. A set designer, however, has been selected: David Rockwell. Who's he? Well, you've probably seen his work, but not on a theatre stage. For the past ten years, Rockwell has been the first man restaurateurs have called when they open a trendy new eatery. He has designed everything from Nobu to Ruby Foo's, to public spaces like the Grand Central Terminal Dining Concourse, as well as chain horrors like Planet Hollywood. For years now, Rockwell has been dying to design for the theatre itself, but has never been given the chance -- until now. The results will be interesting. The man's heart is obviously in the theatre. He has brought plenty of theatricality to New York's dining establishments. Also, he designed the new Sky Lobby in the AA Theatre. So, perhaps he could be persuaded, as a favor to the community, to do something about that Chevy's?