PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 31-June 6: Better Shop Around

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 31-June 6: Better Shop Around Pre-Tony Awards fever reached a peak this last week and, truth to tell, the atmosphere wasn't all that feverish. Since the nominations were announced on May 12, the scene has been relatively quiet.

The month has proceeded calmly and orderly—in short, it hasn't seemed like Tony time at all. The dailies published their predictions and did their best to create a sense of tension. But, mainly, the articles told a tale of the near inevitable triumph of Hairspray, Take Me Out, Nine and Long Day's Journey Into Night.

The real hub-bub this week was down Florida way, where the producers of the Broadway-bound revival of the musical Little Shop of Horrors decided to take a detour on the road to Broadway. The pre-New York engagement at the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables will end on June 15 and will not proceed to Broadway's Virginia Theatre, where it was set to begin July 16. "The elements of this production did not come together in the way we would have liked," said producer Marc Routh, in a statement that also said, in effect, that Jerry Zaks would replace Connie Grappo as director. The producers are obviously still hot for Broadway. Zaks wasted no time in arranging new auditions and the New York Times reported that the production was holding on to the Virginia for a possible fall arrival. So, it seems this Little Shop will by no means close up shop.

A Year With Frog and Toad said it would close June 15 at the Cort Theatre. But amphibian-loving musical fans shouldn't despair. Soon after, it was formally announced that director-choreographer Susan Stroman and actor Nathan Lane would once again join forces again in June 2004 for a new version of one of oddest entries in the Stephen Sondheim oeuvre, The Frogs. Lane apparently now has enough clout to convince Sondheim that he's the man to adapt Burt Shevelove script, which was itself a loose adaptation of Aristophanes' 405 B.C. play of the same name. Lane's commitment to star in the resulting production probably didn't hurt the actor's argument. No word yet on what changes Lane plans to make. The original 1974 work called for a large cast of actors skilled in both acting and swimming and an exhibition pool in which they perform. We shall see.

Chicago's Pegasus Players, which has a habit of doing obscure Sondheim before New York gets around to it—the company produced the composer's early show Saturday Night before Off-Broadway's Second Stage hosted the New York premiere—will do so again. April 8-May 25, 2004, are the dates for the Pegasus Frogs (representing the original version, which Pegasus had previously staged).

About Second Stage and Chicago—the nonprofit's second marriage with Windy City auteur Mary Zimmerman began on June 3, when The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci started previews. Also beginning previews that day was the Playwrights Horizons rendering of Theresa Rebeck's new one-woman play, Bad Dates, featuring frequent Rebeck interpreter, Julie White. This should be Rebeck's biggest New York year in some time. Her Omnium Gatherum, co-written with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, will have its New York premiere at Off-Broadway's Variety Arts Theatre this fall. One more June 3 item: Marsha Norman's new play, Last Dance, opened at Manhattan Theatre Club, JoBeth Williams in the lead. Of course, the big opening of the week was Lonny Price's new staging of Athol Fugard's Master Harold....and the boys. The presence of Price and actor Danny Glover—both veterans of the drama's Broadway premiere—apparently lent the work some added gravitas. Critics hailed the production as powerful and praised Glover in particular, thus extended the recent critical winning streak of the Roundabout Theatre Company (Nine, Joe Egg) and neatly rescuing Price from the taint of the failed Urban Cowboy.

It's a fair assessment to say that most folks in the theatre lean to the left politically. But is there anyone among us would can challenge the rampantly liberal political activism of playwright Tony Kushner? Angels in America made it clear how he felt about the Reagan White House and conservative power brokers like Roy Cohn. Homebody/Kabul performed the nice trick of tacitly condemning the United States' military conflict in Afghanistan before it even happened. (Though the play was staged during that war, prescient Kushner wrote the Kabul-set drama long before.) And then there was that infamously rambling 2002 commencement speech at Vassar College in which no member of the GOP escaped fiery condemnation. But the writer may have topped himself with his new play Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, which will get a July 18 reading in San Francisco. In it, First Lady Laura Bush—a former teacher—is shown reading to the dead children of Iraq. How's that for subtlety? And if that isn't enough to steam George W., Laura will be played by Karen Black.

(L-R) Susan Stroman &amp; Nathan Lane, Hunter Foster &amp; Alice Ripley in <i>Little Shop of Horrors</i>, and Michael Boatman &amp; Danny Glover in <i>Master Harold ... and the boys</i>.
(L-R) Susan Stroman & Nathan Lane, Hunter Foster & Alice Ripley in Little Shop of Horrors, and Michael Boatman & Danny Glover in Master Harold ... and the boys. (Photo by <i>Little Shop</i> - Richard Mitchell, <i>Master Harold</i> - Joan Marcus)