PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 18-24: Seasons Greetings

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 18-24: Seasons Greetings While shows open on Broadway and off at an increasingly alarming rate, as producers leap headlong into awards season, business goes on as usual in the saner remainder of the country. Over the last couple weeks, the nation's major regional theatres have been releasing their season schedules for 2000-2001. And though New York City is currently obsessed with its own theatrical machinations, it may be worth noting that three of the productions it is clamoring over -- Broadway's A Moon for the Misbegotten, Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery and the upcoming The Laramie Project -- began life at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Denver Center Theatre Company, respectively.
Pascal & Headley in Aida; J. Harris in Winter; Tim Rice Takes Four (With Beauty's Deborah Gibson).
Pascal & Headley in Aida; J. Harris in Winter; Tim Rice Takes Four (With Beauty's Deborah Gibson). (Photo by <i>Aida</i> by Joan Marcus; <i>Winter</i> by Liz Lauren; Rice by Aubrey Reuben)

While shows open on Broadway and off at an increasingly alarming rate, as producers leap headlong into awards season, business goes on as usual in the saner remainder of the country. Over the last couple weeks, the nation's major regional theatres have been releasing their season schedules for 2000-2001. And though New York City is currently obsessed with its own theatrical machinations, it may be worth noting that three of the productions it is clamoring over -- Broadway's A Moon for the Misbegotten, Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery and the upcoming The Laramie Project -- began life at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Denver Center Theatre Company, respectively.

Not content to open its upcoming season with the customary one play, the Denver theatre will raise the curtain on ten, in the form of John Barton's Tantalus: An Epic Myth for a New Millennium. The ten-play cycle centering on the Trojan War, presented in association with London's Royal Shakespeare Company, will require a cast of 22 and the skills of three directors: Peter Hall, Mick Gordon and Edward Hall.

The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, meanwhile, also has an ambitious undertaking on the roster, also with an ambitiously long title. Keith Glover's cowboys-and-vampires story, Dark Paradise: The Legend of the Five-Pointed Star, does not boast multiple plays or directors, but it does require hundreds of lighting, sound and special effects. The show will rehearse an extra week to perfect every technical cue.

In Chicago, it looks like Julie Harris will return to the Victory Gardens Theatre, where she had a success in 1999 with Claudia Allen's Winter. The new project is another Allen play, Fossils, which will conclude the company's 2000-2001 season. Allen, little known in New York, is a bit of a phenomenon in Chicago; Winter was Victory Garden's most successful production ever. Also at the theatre next season will be The Action Against Sol Schumann, a new play by another prodigious playwright primarily known for his Windy City work, Jeffrey Sweet. Sweet's Bluff and Flyovers were hits for Victory Gardens in recent years.

Of course, Gotham has a few theatres with seasons as well, and one of the biggest, the Roundabout Theatre Company, this week announced its line-up. Anchoring the season will be a major revival of Stephen Sondheim's seminal musical Follies, a production long rumored. The spring 2001 staging will be directed by Matthew Warchus, who, one hopes, will fare better than the last young, hot shot English director Sondheim collaborated with, Sam Mendes, erstwhile helmsman of the stalled Wise Guys. No cast has been announced, but that's alright -- speculation on that front will give Sondheim fans something to do for months to come. Also in the Roundabout season are previously-mentioned productions of Kaufman and Hart's The Man Who Came to Dinner, starring Nathan Lane and Christine Baranski, and O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, directed by David Leveaux. New to the list are revivals of Noel Coward's Design for Living, directed by Joe Mantello and possibly starring, as the comedy's central menage a trois, Alan Cumming, Julianne Moore and Rupert Everett; and Roundabout favorite Brian Friel's The Faith Healer. The Roundabout also intends to hold on to Off-Broadway's Gramercy Theatre a bit longer, presenting Sean O'Casey's June and the Paycock there in the fall, John Crowley directing.

Now, back to those Broadway and Off-Broadway openings. There were a few of this week. The Moon for the Misbegotten, starring Cherry Jones, Gabriel Byrne and Roy Dotrice, probably needed great reviews to make a go of it, and it got them. Aida, which opened March 23, did not get them -- but then, it probably didn't need them, what with its $15 million-dollar advance. Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery received praise, much of it for star Eileen Heckart, playing an octogenarian, once-vibrant and now in serious decline. And James Lapine's The Moment When wins the award for tardiest unveiling; after weeks of previews at Playwrights Horizons, the estimable drama opened March 21 -- five days before it is due to close. (This time, when critics instructed readers to "run, don't walk," they really meant it.)

And the final entry in the Broadway sweepstakes was made official, as Mae West sent Squonk back west to Pittsburgh: Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde will begin previews at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway April 14.

The Public Theater confirmed what Playbill On-Line reported a couple weeks ago, that Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Natalie Portman are on board to do a production of The Seagull in Central Park. What's changed is the date: due to scheduling conflicts, the play will be staged in the summer of 2001.

Finally, last spring, everyone was going on about Frank Wildhorn's hat trick of having three shows on Broadway at once, Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War. Well, with the arrival of Aida and Jesus Christ Superstar, lyricist Tim Rice has just done Wildhorn one better. Add Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and that makes four Rice musicals currently playing the Rialto. I'll leave the final answer to the musical theatre trivia mongers (and, lord knows, there are enough of those), but I'm guessing that must be some sort of record.

--By Robert Simonson