June 15 marks the last performance in the short run of this Broadway season's Seussical: Sweet Smell of Success. The comparison has nothing to do with the relative qualities of either show, but in the way both were treated by the New York theatre press. Each show floated out there in the realm of possibilities for several years, buoyed by the high expectations attached to the personnel and great amounts of cash involved. Troubled out-of-town tryouts put an end to that good will to such an extent that each endured a New York run of unrelenting hyper-speculation and abuse. (Whether it was justified or not I leave to you, gentle readers.)
Sweet Smell's quick demise is all the more remarkable when you think of the many ways in which the show—on paper, at least—distinguished itself. Consider these facts and wonder: the musical was Marvin Hamlisch's first on Broadway in nearly a decade; it was John Guare's first in three decades (if you don't count his uncredited doctoring of Kiss Me, Kate); the production brought John Lithgow back to the stage after a 14 year hiatus; the show is acclaimed British director Nicholas Hytner's first original American musical; in Sidney Falco, rising star Brian D'Arcy James had his first leading Broadway to date.
Anyway, enough of the old, on to the new. Though I know there's very, very little reader interest out there in new musicals, I thought I might talk about them for just a bit (I hope no one gets bored). This summer is unusually full of new "tuners," as the parlance goes. The big attention getter is Hairspray, which, when it opens on Broadway on Aug. 15, will be the first new Broadway musical of the season, and very likely the first new hit musical. Hairspray, based on John Water's kitsch classic film (what Waters film isn't a kitsch classics?), officially opened June 14 at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre, the show's sole out-of-town stop.
The other important New York top-tapper of the summer (well, if you consider that autumn doesn't officially begin until Sept. 23) is A Man of No Importance, the new work which reunites the Ragtime crew of composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and librettist Terrence McNally. The project is based on the 1994 film of the same name and stars Roger Rees as Alfie Byrne, a closeted gay bus driver with a passion for Oscar Wilde, who still lives with his sister, played by Faith Prince. Supporting the two stars are the capable likes of Ronn Carroll, Luther Creek, Michael McCormick, Jessica Molaskey, Martin Moran, Sally Murphy and Brandon Wardell. Previews begin Sept. 12 at the Off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre.
Upstate, New York Stage & Film is premiering a promising venture called Adrift in Macao, a musical send-up of film noir by Christopher Durang and Peter Melnick. Musical veterans Michael Rupert, James Barbour and Liz Larsen populate the "Casablanca" esque Macao Surf and Turf Nightclub Gambling Casino, which is overseen by one Rick Shaw. Durang's interest in spoofing musical theatre dates back far before Urinetown came along, to the mock cabaret act, Christopher Durang and Dawne, which he performed from time to time. Kennedy Center continues to churn out well-received revivals of Sondheim in its months-long celebration of the composer. Whether any of the shows will reach New York is the question of the hour. But Raul Esparza, who is currently starring as George in Sunday in the Park with George, revealed that plans are afoot for an evening in New York of highlights from the six productions that comprise the festival.
Finally, an item on an Off-Broadway musical that is turning them away. No, not potential theatregoers—cast members. For whatever reason, Love, Janis, the biographical tribute and revue to Janis Joplin at the Village Theatre, can't keep some of its performers for more than a couple shows. On June 2, it lost another star when erstwhile pop star Laura Branigan abruptly exited after two performances. Her departure follows the equally quick vanishing act of "Felicity" actress Amy Jo Johnson, who also managed just two bows. Kristen Lee Kelly, formerly of Rent, left the show after a brief stay as well. Perhaps they should change the title from Love, Janis to Dear John.