PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 24-30: On Balance, A Good Season

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 24-30: On Balance, A Good Season Why do we worry about Broadway? This street isn't the famed Fabulous Invalid. It's the Rasputin of the entertainment world. Throw a recession, an overseas war, record snow levels and a multi-union strike at it, and it still comes through with record earnings

According to the League of American Theatres and Producers, the industry's total box office in 2002-03—a season which could easily be called the most bedeviled in decades—stood at $720.9 million, a jump of 12 percent over 2001-02 total and 8.2 percent higher than the 2000-01 figures. Attendance was also up. Paid admissions topped off at 11.4 million, 4.3 percent more from last season. Playing weeks, the number of weeks in which Broadway theatres were occupied, were 1,544. That was 7.7 percent higher than 2002-03.

Deserving a good chunk of the credit for the glad tidings is Hairspray, the smashola that started the season off on a tremendous high. The show recently recouped its entire $10.5 million investment and is in the process of sending its tuneful message of tolerance, self-esteem and big hair out into the world. A two-year national tour begins in Baltimore this fall. A Canadian premiere is scheduled and talks are underway for premieres in London, Germany, Australia and Japan.

Two possible hits for the next Broadway season are David Hare's latest, Breath of Life and William Nicholson’s Retreat From Moscow. The Hare, a hit in London with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, has long been expected—but only with Smith. Now, it appears the production has its New York co-star: Dianne Wiest, who recently returned to the theatre in Salome: The Reading and, when you think about it, looks and sounds an awful lot like Dench.

In 2001, director Mike Nichols toyed with bringing Retreat from Moscow to Off-Broadway's Promenade Theatre with Anthony Hopkins, Sinead Cusack and Ralph Fiennes. Then silence. Now, the show is back, with a different director, Daniel Sullivan, and a different cast—Eileen Atkins, Ben Chaplin and recent Sweet Smell of Success starJohn Lithgow (who obviously doesn't hold a grudge against Broadway). The play will open at the Booth Theatre Oct. 23

A play based on a true story a German transvestite who managed to survive both the Nazi onslaught and the following, repressive Communist regime. Sounds like a dicey prospect, no? Well that play, I Am My Own Wife by Douglas Wright, directed by Moisés Kaufman and starring Jefferson Mays, opened on May 27 as Playwrights Horizons' biggest hit in a long time. It has extended six weeks and commercial producers are circling. In regional news, the pre-Broadway world premiere of Wicked began performances May 28 at San Francisco's Curran Theatre. Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel star. And the Mark Taper will next season present the world premiere of a new musical, with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by the husband and wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and book by Larry Gelbart. The title? The Taper will get back to you on that one.

Audra McDonald—the ever-concertizing songstress whose four Broadway appearances won her four Tony nominations (and three wins)—tantalized the theatre world by telling the Boston press that she was "in discussion right now about doing one of two projects on Broadway" this fall. This is news, since she hasn't graced a show since late 1999 and, given her recent affection for television pilots, the chances of her returning to the stage were looking slim. The projects? She'll get back to you on that.

Finally, Rachel Kempson, the grande dame of the Redgrave clan, the planet's greatest extant acting dynasty, widow of Michael Redgrave and mother of Lynn, Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, died May 23. She was living in upstate New York with her granddaughter Natasha Richardson and grandson-in-law Liam Neeson. Her two daughters are currently on the New York stage: Vanessa in Long Day's Journey Into Night and Lynn in Talking Heads. She was 92.

Harvey Fierstein in <i>Hairspray</i>, Jefferson Mays in <i>I Am My Own Wife</i>. Audra McDonald.
Harvey Fierstein in Hairspray, Jefferson Mays in I Am My Own Wife. Audra McDonald. (Photo by Paul Kolnik (<i>Hairspray</i>), Joan Marcus (<i>I Am My Own Wife</i>))