All eyes in the New York theatre community were on Seattle this week, as Hairspray, the first big musical of the season, opened at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. The production reaped what are known as money notices. Variety called it a "shiny new hit," which is about as unequivocal as you can get. Most of the other reviewers joined in the trade daily's effort to provide effortlessly transferrable ad copy.
The news was not long in getting to Broadway. The media, which are prone to view the Broadway season as some sort of horse race, quickly crowned the Marc Shaiman Scott Wittman-Mark O'Donnell Thomas Meehan musical the one to beat in 2002 03. Hairspray will open at the Neil Simon Theatre on Aug. 15.
There was also a lot of talk surrounding London's Bombay Dreams. One would think the musical was a new Andrew Lloyd Webber show, rather than one that is merely produced by the British composer. It's easy to see why people might get confused; Lloyd Webber crows over the property as if it was his own baby. A bevy of New York producers flew over to take in the show's opening, which was handily timed for a post-Tonys moment when Gotham moneymen have a lot of time of their hands. Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein was impressed and made his financial interest in the project quite public.
Bombay Dreams would be a new breed of musical on Broadway—as it is, indeed, in the West End. The show features music by Hindi composer A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Don Black, and a book by novelist writer-comedian Meera Syal. It is an original work about the Bombay film industry, affectionately known as Bollywood. Bollywood is a place where the high spirits and boundless emotion of the Hollywood movie musical never died. Characters often break into song and are enfolded into lavish production numbers.
Kristin Chenoweth, the woman who would have been Millie, will finally return to Broadway in the new Stephen Schwartz musical, Wicked, next year. Chenoweth revealed her intentions on her official website. The musical, about the early life of the Wicked Witch of the West, will bow on Halloween 2003. And Frank Wildhorn, who had three shows on Broadway around the same time Chenoweth was being crowned a rising star, will bring his Camille Claudel to the Rialto sometime in the 2002-03 season, with Linda Eder in the title role. This, according to the show's director, Gabriel Barre. The casting of the lead roles in the national tour of The Producers has been an open secret for weeks going on months—but without any official confirmation. The word of Mel Brooks, however, would seem official enough. The multiple Tony-winner told Variety June 19 that Lewis J. Stadlen and Don Stephenson would play Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in the first U.S. tour, which launches Sept. 10 in Pittsburgh. Once that road show reaches L.A. for a long stay, beginning June 30, 2003, other leads are expected to take the roles—Jason Alexander and Martin Short, if Brooks has his way. Brooks also said original stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick would headline the London premiere of the musical. The duo will stay with the show for six months beginning either December 2003 or January 2004.
It was a bad week for Jesse Ventura. Around the time the maverick Minnesota governor announced he would not seek reelection, impresario Pierre Cossette made it known he has dropped The Body Ventura, a planned Broadway musical about the former wrestler. Cossette said the governor "was never satisfied with it," although the producer added that Stephen Dolginoff's book, music and lyrics were "excellent." The project was born soon after Ventura seized Minnesota's top political post and the national spotlight in a shocking victory. Unsurprisingly, news on the show tapered off as the governor's popularity dipped and the public's patience with him waned.
Dolginoff, a New York City musical-theatre writer, told Playbill On-Line June 19, "It's off for the present time, but it's not totally dead. It has been difficult dealing with the governor's schedule. Maybe when the governor's not the governor we will see the show in the future." In the meantime, he can work on that tune about how Ventura killed the state funding of the Guthrie Theater's new complex. I'm thinking second-act finale.
Finally, the producers that worked on Broadway during its heyday have, as a race, passed from existence. Robert Whitehead died on June 15. His death follows the loss of David Merrick and Alexander Cohen. Whitehead worked at the same time as those legendary showmen. His focus was serious drama and his name represented good taste, challenging material and professionalism. He was more concerned with the work than he was with the balance sheet and the playwrights, directors and actors he worked with counted him a collaborator as much as a backer.