The first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, is fast approaching, and an uncertain and still raw-nerved theatre community is grappling with the problem as to how to best acknowledge the occasion. So far, two types of response have prevailed. One school of thought argues that a dark, silent theatre best honors the gravity of the day. The second says the theatre must express its feelings through an exhibition of its art.
The latter is the tack taken by J. Dakota Powell, the producer of Brave New World—a three-day benefit Sept. 9-11 at Town Hall designed to commemorate the anniversary. A handful of the more than 150 theatre artists who will come together for Brave New World recently gathered to preview three short plays and one song which will be included in the event. Each one of the playwrights, composers, actors, singers and directors involved was personally invited to participate. Among those slated to take part are Matthew Broderick, Billy Crudup, Sigourney Weaver, Vanessa Williams, Mary Louise Parker, Christopher Durang, John Guare, Alan Menken, Lanford Wilson and Stephen Sondheim.
More than 50 pieces will be presented at Town Hall, with each evening featuring a completely different line-up. The longest selection will last 20 minutes. Others will take only a couple minutes. Some plays will be staged in a rough form, with scripts held by actors. Others will be rehearsed and polished. The creators are well aware that two hours of cathartic Sept. 11 plays could well prove shattering for a New York audience. The order of each night will be carefully arranged, with a balance of dramatic pieces, lighter material and music.
The show may be one of the only theatrical attractions available on Sept. 11. Many Broadway producers have opted to voluntarily cancel performances of their plays and musicals for that matinee and evening (the date falls on a two-show Wednesday). Many of the Broadway shows will schedule performances on another day to make up for the lost show. In addition, several Off-Broadway shows will be dark on Sept. 11. Press spokesman Chris Boneau, whose firm Boneau/Bryan-Brown represents many of the attractions which will close for a day, said "All of them are doing it out or respect. From the Disney standpoint, the move is in anticipation of memorials and events that will likely happen on that day." Another reason fueling producers' decision to shut their doors on Sept. 11 may be the fact that few tickets are reportedly being sold for performances on that date.
Two Broadway shows have hung up their closing notice. The Full Monty announced a closing date of Sept. 1, while The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, the Charles Busch comedy that started at Off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club, will shutter Sept. 15. Both were commercial hits. Thomas Meehan, who has a Broadway smash as co-librettist of The Producers, and another expected hit as co-author of Hairspray, may soon begin work on a musical based on the macabre cartoons of artist Charles Addams. "It would be based on the cartoons and in the spirit of them," Meehan told PBOL. "It would be up to me, as the book writer, to construct a story out of them." Meehan said that his Hairspray collaborator Marc Shaiman is a prime candidate to pen the show's music. However, permission must first be obtained from the Addams estate before work can proceed.
The much publicized Westport Country Playhouse production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, starring Paul Newman, may soon arrive on Broadway. The show closed as scheduled on June 22 at the Playhouse, earning respectable reviews. There was some scuttlebut that the mounting would be adopted by the Roundabout Theatre Company, which is planning its own Our Town this season. But the Post reported that that staging would be produced by Westport and run only eight weeks. Did someone say $100 ticket?
Every so often, we here at Playbill On-Line receive news releases which make us stop and pause (and not in awe, I assure you). Here are two such tidbits:
Rocker Sebastian Bach, the yellow-maned, muscled lead singer of the 1980s heavy metal band Skid Row, is expected to play the Messiah in the new national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. The show borrows elements from the recent Broadway staging and launches Nov. 1 in California.
And, better yet: Troika Entertainment is sending Andrew Lloyd Webber's roller-skating musical, Starlight Express, an 18-year phenomenon in London that also played two years on Broadway, on a 60-week national tour in 2003. The new production — which has actors on rollers skates playing steam, electric and diesel locomotives and attached railcars — will include pre-filmed 3-D racing sequences in which the characters are seen speeding, crashing and aiming toward the finish line in the musical fantasy. The audience will be wearing 3-D glasses for the film sections.
The glasses may not be dark enough.
—By Robert Simonson