PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 22-28: The Q Factor

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 22-28: The Q Factor Manhattan Theatre Club announced its 2004-05 season this week. It was one of the last major New York City nonprofits to do so, and it's easy to figure why. Their past season was the most bedeviled in Gotham; one imagines they took great care of mapping out the next 12 months.

The venerable company has, to a large extent, looked for comfort among old friends, among them MTC veteran playwrights Charles Busch, John Patrick Shanley and Donald Margulies, as well as director Daniel Sullivan and actress Mary-Louise Parker. All evoke memories of past hits.

The return of Busch must be particularly welcomed. His last effort as MTC was The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, a huge critical and commercial hit for the company. Lynne Meadow directed that piece and she will pilot the new work, Our Leading Lady, about 19th-century actress Laura Keene and the troupe of actors who are putting on Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater the night President Abraham Lincoln is to attend. Daniel Sullivan, a director whose presence makes all around him feel calm and assured, will stage a new piece by Elaine May, After the Night and the Music.

Parker will star in the previously-announced revival of Craig Lucas' Reckless, to be directed by Mark Brokaw. Also known was Brooklyn Boy, a new play by Margulies, starring Adam Arkin. Shanley will give the troupe Doubt, about a Bronx Catholic school in the 1960s, mounted by the ubiquitous Doug Hughes. Under consideration for Stage II are Jeffrey Hatcher's A Picasso and Nilo Cruz's Beauty of the Father. Conspicuously absent from the line-up are any fresh writers. But, then, MTC hasn't earned many valentines lately by associating with new names, so you can't blame it.

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The Atlantic Theatre Company switched its David Mamets. Dr. Faustus is out, and something with the very un Mametlike title of Romance is in. Don't expect the playwright to go too soft focus, though. The play concerns "issues ranging from our current legal system, infidelity, the Middle East and world peace." The Atlantic also announced casting of Jessica Goldberg's new play Get What You Need, which sits in its new second space, Atlantic 453. Featured are Jenny Bacon, Alex Draper, Josh Hamilton and Lois Smith. ***

The coming Broadway musical Dracula will have the most toothsome (sorry) cast yet to be seen in a Frank Wildhorn musical. In addition to Tom Hewitt as the Count and Melissa Errico as his quarry, the ensemble will include three-time Tony Award-winner Hinton Battle as Van Helsing, Don Stephenson as Renfield, Darren Ritchie and Kelli O'Hara. Performances at the Belasco Theatre at just around the corner, beginning July 19 toward an opening Aug. 16.

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The Tony Awards revealed its roster of celebrity presenters and entertainers. Among them are Nicole Kidman, Carole Bayer Sager, Tony Bennett, Mary J. Blige, Scarlett Johansson, LL Cool J, Ethan Hawke, Jimmy Fallon.....uh, wait....no, this is the right list. It has to be. Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chita Rivera and Bernadette Peters are on it. Hope there are some cultural translators back stage at Radio City Music Hall.

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Finally, if Avenue Q doesn't win some Tony Awards this year, it won't be for lack of trying. If only John Kerry would campaign as hard as these folks have in the past two weeks. The forward thrust began on May 12 when the show craftily invited what seemed like the entire theatre press corps to scarf pizza and quaff beer at John's Pizzeria, while the Q cast offered entertainment to a collection of all-important, out-of town theatre presenters on the lookout for new product. Soon after, the players and their puppets were performing at the Manhattan Theatre Club fundraiser at the New York Hilton. The cast will be involved in two coming panels: "There's Something About Puppets" at the Vineyard Theatre; and "Empty-Handed," sponsored by Musicals Tonight! And the recent Easter Bonnet benefit, in which Q triumphed with their skit "Avenue Jew," was recently released on DVD.

Why, the show has even managed to stir up a bit of useful controversy via next week's issue of Time Out New York, the cover of which features Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Donna Muphy and Tonya Pinkins—all nominees for the Best Actress in a Musical prize—but not this year's fifth candidate, Avenue Q's witty and winning Stephanie D'Abruzzo. The show cried foul, by Time Out argued the cover concept was Broadway divas, not musical nominees, and was conceived before the nominations were announced. I don't know what Avenue Q is complaining about. Covers never change tallies. But there is such a thing as a sympathy vote.

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