PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 16-22: Oklahoma!, UK!

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 16-22: Oklahoma!, UK! On March 21, Oklahoma! opened on Broadway at last, a triumph of will for the production's two creators, director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Susan Stroman, and its producer, Cameron Mackintosh, who unveiled their creation at London's Royal National Theatre on July 15, 1998. Nunn was then-director of the Royal National Theatre. Since then, he has directed a few more blockbuster musical revivals and announced his intention to step down from his post in April 2003. As for Stroman, she went on from the Rodgers and Hammerstein piece to create a few little shows, including Contact, The Music Man and The Producers.

On March 21, Oklahoma! opened on Broadway at last, a triumph of will for the production's two creators, director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Susan Stroman, and its producer, Cameron Mackintosh, who unveiled their creation at London's Royal National Theatre on July 15, 1998. Nunn was then-director of the Royal National Theatre. Since then, he has directed a few more blockbuster musical revivals and announced his intention to step down from his post in April 2003. As for Stroman, she went on from the Rodgers and Hammerstein piece to create a few little shows, including Contact, The Music Man and The Producers.

With so many other irons in the fire, one might have expected these two talents would have given up on the transfer years ago. Why'd it take so long? Let's review. Stroman first confirmed that the revival would jump the pond in November 1998, making its way to Broadway probably in fall 1999. But American Actors' Equity, which protects its members' turf with a pitbull-like ferocity, had something to say about that. Mackintosh wanted to bring over, intact, the entire UK cast, which featured Hugh Jackman, Josefina Gabrielle and American actor Shuler Hensley. Equity balked. Nunn appealed, pleading a tight schedule which precluded new casting of the enormous production. Equity repeated: nix.

Over a year passed. Then, in May 2000, new information surfaced, again from the chatty Stroman: Oklahoma! would bow at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in the fall. Only, it wouldn't. Two months later, Mackintosh said, "We have decided that due to the prior commitments of many of the production teams, as well as the extremely short time for a December opening, the production would be better served by postponing to a later date."

That later date turned out to be this spring. Mackintosh, Nunn and Stroman didn't get their cast, though they salvaged Gabrielle and Hensley. Patrick Wilson was drafted to play Curly, replacing Jackman, who had gone on to become a movie star.

And for all the perseverance of these intrepid artists, what reward? Some critics, drawing on three-year-old memories, whined that the show wasn't the same. Still, there is a healthy interest in the musical, plus a record pre-sale box office take. As for the Best Musical Revival Tony Award, prognosticators are hedging their bets until Into the Woods opens next month. Wilson's old show, The Full Monty, has a new cast for its new national tour, set to begin at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre this summer. Christian Anderson, Cleavant Derricks, Robert Westenberg, Geoffrey Nauftts and Carol Woods are among the Broadway vets involved in the road show, which, in a detour, will spend all of August in Japan.

The details on another national tour of a Broadway musical were revealed this week. Soon, the producers of Urinetown will find out how the unlikely satire will play in Peoria — or, at least, in San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Cleveland.

There will be no tour for another show, One Mo' Time, and soon no Broadway production either. The Vernel Bagneris musical at the Longacre Theatre will play its final performance March 24 after a run far briefer than the one the New Orleans-flavored revue enjoyed Off Broadway beginning 20 years ago.

Anne Bancroft finally returned to the Off-Broadway premiere of Edward Albee's Occupant on March 21. Illness forced the famed film star to bow out last month, leading to the postponement of the initial run. But now, because the show is sold out, and subscriber obligations must be filled over a comparatively short time, the Signature Theatre Company has scratched all press performances. For an Albee premiere. Starring Anne Bancroft. Taking press seats from critics — especially to a show with a pedigree like that — is akin to taking a bone away from a dog. Expect reviewers with a keen sense of duty to make their way into the theatre, somehow — and their notices into the papers.

Some people have friends in the business and some people have friends in the business. Jim Simpson of downtown's Bat Theatre (or, more likely, his wife, Sigourney Weaver) certainly has his share of famous pals, and lately he has been pulling in a lot of favors to pump life into the Bat's moribund box office. The vehicle has been The Guys, a Sept. 11-themed drama. It began as a workshop late last year with Weaver and Bill Murray as the headliners. Since opening, the cast has changed frequently, with Bill Irwin and Anthony LaPaglia stepping in for limited times. From April 2 to April 19, Swoosie Kurtz and Tim Robbins will assume the work's two roles.

But Simpson comes off relatively impoverished in companionship when compared to playwright Eve Ensler, who seems to possess a mere one degree of separation from every notable name on the planet. Over the years, Ensler has steadily flipped through her bulging Rolodex, calling on dozens upon dozens of well known film, television and theatre actresses to appear in benefit readings and then performances of her hit play, The Vagina Monologues. She now has another title Off-Broadway, Necessary Targets, which doesn't lend itself as easily as Monologues to rotating casts. But that hasn't stopped the parade of bold-faced names. The play has inaugurated a series of post-show talkbacks called "Necessary Talks." For the March 24 event, Ensler has pulled one of the biggest strings of her life: Participating in the panel will be Former First Lady and current Senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton. Apparently, it takes a village to support a play, and Ensler's pals could probably populate one.