PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 21-27: Disney Redux

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 21-27: Disney Redux Some years ago, DreamWorks, the Steven Spielberg Jeffrey Katzenberg-David Geffen film studio, began to venture in Disney territory by producing animated features like "The Prince of Epypt" and "The Road to El Dorado." Now, a similar rivalry is brewing on Broadway.

Disney was, of course, the first entertainment corporation to see dollar signs on Broadway. Beginning with Beauty and the Beast, it began mining its back catalogue of film titles for possible stage properties. It now has three long-running shows on Broadway: Beauty, The Lion King and Aida, with several more in the works.

DreamWorks' theatrical intentions were first revealed when the Tony-winning composing duo of Hairspray, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, announced they had signed with DreamWorks to adapt the Spielberg film "Catch Me If You Can" for the stage. Only a few week later, there is news that the studio wants to bring its screen hit "Shrek" to legitimate life. Donmar Warehouse founder Sam Mendes has been hired to direct the creation. Several other DreamWorks are said to be in the pipeline. Don't be surprised if, like Disney before them, the studio soon starts casting about for a Broadway musical house to call its own.

If they were betting men, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim could have had a lot of fun over the past four decades making friendly wagers with each other about when the next Broadway revival of Gypsy and West Side Story would come along. These shows are among the most revived of all musicals. Since their premieres in the late '50s, each has been revived three times—the current Gypsy incarnation now playing at the Shubert Theatre. The next West Side Story will be at the hands of producers Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller (who, given their past credits Rent and La Boheme, have great faith in modern retellings of classic stories). McCollum said the revival would not happen before spring on 2005.

Also returning to Broadway will be Larry Gelbart's Sly Fox, which has been officially announced for Broadway in February 2004. Arthur Penn will direct Richard Dreyfuss in this updated version of Ben Jonson's Volpone. (Hey, why aren't McCollum and Seller producing this?) It will begin previews on Feb. 27 after an out of-town tryout. Also made official this week was the Broadway jump of Golda's Balcony, the one-person play by William Gibson which has been a great hit for star Tovah Feldshuh and Off-Broadway's Manhattan Ensemble Theatre. It will begin previews Oct. 4 at the Helen Hayes Theatre and open Oct. 15.

The Classic Stage Company named their new artistic director, Brian Kulick. He will step into a position which has historically led to greater glory. Carey Perloff became the head of San Francisco's ACT after leaving CSC, while David Esbjornson is now the preferred director of Arthur Miller, Edward Albee and other playwrights. The fate of the recently departed Barry Edelstein remains to be seen. Joseph Chaikin, one of the more revolutionary and innovative figures in the American theatre of the past 40 years, died June 22. Chaikin had his start as a member of the radical The Living Theatre, appearing in its most famous production, The Connection. From there, he went on to form his own troupe, the Open Theatre, where he developed new approaches toward acting and script creation. The theatre became nearly as famous as the Living for shows like Viet Rock, The Serpent and America Hurrah, but, in a typical move, Chaikin disbanded the group in 1973 when he thought to was becoming to successful and institutionalized. (Imagine a company today making that decision.) Despite being hobbled by aphasia in later years, he continued to direct.

Finally, an earlier passing was remembered on June 23 when much of the Broadway theatre community gathered at the Martin Beck Theatre for the building's rechristening as the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. The theatre's new marquee is an illuminated reproduction of one of Hirschfeld's most famous self-portraits. The recreated illustration shows the bearded, woolly-eyebrowed Hirschfeld dipping a quill pen into his very brain. The lights lit up in such a sequence as to repeatedly draw and redraw the artist's uplifted arm and pen. Anyone still dismayed that the world will never see another new Hirschfeld creation can take some comfort in the new sign, which will, in its way, continue the artist's immortal line every night.

(L-R) Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir in <i>Golda's Balcony</i>.
(L-R) Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir in Golda's Balcony. (Photo by Feldshuh: Aaron Leichter)