The Kennedy Center's "Sondheim Celebration" is providing the theatre community with a welcome distraction from the insanity of the awards season and the Tony Awards race. The ambitious festival of six major Sondheim musicals—a logistical and artistic Everest if there ever was one—officially got underway on May 10 with the first performance of Sweeney Todd, directed by Christopher Ashley.
The evening was rated a qualified success, with stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Baranski providing ample entertainment and many critics generously crediting whatever drawbacks they discovered on stage to the production's unique rehearsal process. The Washington Post notice read: "The show... doesn't quite land on you like a ton of bricks, the way Sweeney can. But it's amazing how close it comes, given the groundbreaking way this has been put together... For this ambitious repertory season, which features two clusters of three shows in a rotating schedule on the Eisenhower's stage, the production schedule is more intense, and the performances are strictly limited to around 16 shows each. So there are a few little kinks..."
Who says critics can't be kind?
Things get one hundred percent trickier on May 17 when the second show in the half-dozen, Company, begins performances. Thereafter, Bobby and Sweeney alternate nights on the Eisenhower stage. That is, until Mr. Seurat of Sunday in the Park with George arrives on May 31 to compound the intensity backstage. (The week from June 15 to June 21 features productions of all three musicals, plus presentations of Barbara Cook's Mostly Sondheim concert and Mandy Patinkin's Celebrating Sondheim. Move, you stagehands!)
The second trio of shows begins its reign on July 12 with Merrily We Roll Along, with Passion and A Little Night Music hot on its heels. Out west, director Harold Prince and first-time playwright Carol Burnett have decided to bring their show Hollywood Arms to Broadway this fall. The Burnett-Carrie Hamilton script officially opened on April 29 at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Reviews have not been great, but, heck, The Graduate has proved that bad press doesn't matter all that much—especially when your play has its hooks into popular culture. The story is based on Burnett's best-selling memoir "One More Time," and that apparently is more than enough to inspire ticket sales. Prince will produce, as well—an occupation he hasn't embraced in nearly two decades.
There's news from the north as well. The 2002 summer season of New York Stage & Film, at Vassar College's Powerhouse Theatre, will feature new plays by Richard Nelson, Jeffrey Hatcher, Tom Donaghy, Arthur Kopit and Edwin Sanchez. The most tantalizing item in the line-up, however, is a new musical by Christopher Durang. He penned the book and lyrics to Adrift in Macao, a musical send-up of film noir. The story takes place at the "Casablanca"-esque Macao Surf and Turf Nightclub Gambling Casino, which is overseen by one Rick Shaw.
At the Williamstown Theatre Festival, meanwhile, a rare revival of Frank Loesser's Where's Charley? has its cast. Christopher Fitzgerald is the titular madcap. Joining him will be Blair Brown, Simon Jones, Paxton Whitehead and Jessica Stone, who is Amy, as in "Once in Love with...."
Back here in comparatively dull, slow-moving Manhattan, every good show deserves favor. The well-reviewed Morning's at Seven on Broadway and John Guare's A Few Stout Individuals at Signature Theatre Company both extended their runs.
Not many know if that other Signature show, Occupant, was any good, because so few of us saw the oft-canceled act and there were no reviews to clue us into its worth. Nonetheless, author Edward Albee said the show would return to Off-Broadway sometime later this year.
Finally, coming to the Public Theater next season will be David Mamet's London success Boston Marriage. The nonprofit will team with for-profit producers Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams to present the show. The booking only adds to the Public's potentially commanding 2002-03 roster, which already includes premieres by Suzan-Lori Parks and Richard Greenberg.
—By Robert Simonson