Cats has been on the road since 1983, and the company (the musical's fourth) that will pack up its kit bag on Dec. 19 in East Lansing, MI, has been traversing the States for twelve-and-a-half, non-stop years. The show is, unsurprisingly, the longest running tour in American theatre history. But, Cats, of course, have nine lives, and a new, streamlined tour will venture out into the provinces in the fall of 2000.
It was a great week on Broadway for the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Two productions which were born at the Berkshire institution are currently adorning the Rialto. The Scott Ellis- directed revival of The Rainmaker was staged at Williamstown in 1998. Jayne Atkinson starred then, and still does, though Woody Harrelson has joined her for the run at the Brooks Atkinson, which opened Nov. 11. Two blocks south, at the Royale, James Naughton's 1999 WTF mounting of Arthur Miller's The Price is in previews. In this instance, the cast -- featuring Harris Yulin, Bob Dishy, Jeffrey DeMunn and Lizbeth Mackay -- hasn't been altered a bit for the New York transfer.
Elsewhere on Broadway, the lonely, decrepit Belasco Theatre, so often dark and friendless in recent years, continues to be everybody's favorite theatre all of a sudden. You will recall that the Julie Harris vehicle Scent of the Roses was due to go into the house until its money fell through. As soon as that news broke, the producers of the Off Broadway hit The Dead began talking of a limited run at the W. 44th Street theatre. That may still happen, but now Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing is a sure thing for the Belasco. The lauded Donmar Warehouse staging of the play will hit the West End in January 2000 and then transfer to New York in April. David Leveaux directs Stephen Dillane and Jennifer Ehle.
Over at the Neil Simon Theatre, The Scarlet Pimpernel made it official: it will close Jan. 2. The end result of three different productions featuring three different casts and two directors is 39 previews and 772 performances. At Pimpernel's old home, the Minskoff, Musicians Unions Local 802 expressed its displeasure with the building's current occupant, Saturday Night Fever, by leafletting the theatre on Nov. 10. According to the union, the musical's "cut-down, synthesized and amplified" music is produced by an orchestra which is seven members short of the required 24. After an initial debate over the issue, where Fever producers apparently did not prevail, six cast members (who sing in the show) on Equity contracts were handed mini electric keyboards in a move to satisfy Local 802's demands. The union said the producer was insisting that the separate group of six cast members were, in fact, instrumentalists. The union has since filed for arbitration.
The pop music that pervades the current musical scene seems to have bedeviled the musicians union quite a bit lately. Labor is known to be unhappy with the fact that nary a piano player graces the pit of the biggest hit of the season, Contact; the cast dances solely to existing recordings of classical, rock and swing songs. It is not known whether the union plans to protest that state of affairs when the show moves to the Vivian Beaumont in March.
Lyricist Tim Rice and the men of ABBA, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, are riding high of late. Perhaps based on Rice's current successes with The Lion King and Aida, and the Swedes' triumph with the London smash and Broadway-bound Mamma Mia! , the Shuberts have cooked up a tour and possible Broadway mounting of the cult Rice-Andersson-Bjorn musical Chess. A lot has happened since the musical bowed to great success in London and little success in New York in the mid-to-late '80s. The Soviet empire fell, for one, making the show's Cold War story a decidedly dated one. But, then again, Footloose and The Bee Gees have arrived in New York, making the pop-oriented project a probably timely one.
An equally timely new play will see a production in February 2000 at the Denver Center Theatre Company. Moises Kaufman, the author of Gross Indecency, has chosen as his follow-up a theatrical examination of the 1998 Wyoming murder of gay college student Matthew Shepherd, titled The Laramie Project. In the Anna Deveare Smith-style work, Kaufman and members of his company, Tectonic Theatre Project, will play people they have interviewed about the killing over the past year. A New York run after the Denver engagement is likely.
Theatre stars, hang on to your Tonys. Never have the tiny trophies been in more danger than in the past month. A few weeks ago, actress Elizabeth Ashley lost hers (won for Take Her, She's Mine) when it burned up with the rest of her Union Square apartment. Now, this week, Ben Vereen was temporarily robbed of his Pippin prize. The culprit: Vereen's daughter's ex-boyfriend, who removed the Tony from Vereen's Upper West Side apartment only to be arrested when he tried to return it. New Tony winners are advised to look in security systems and flame-retardant display cases.
One such winner, Kristin Chenoweth, will soon be taking her Tony to L.A. It was announced that the much-celebrated Epic Proportions star has taken a role in a sitcom on NBC. Her character? "A young woman who takes a job as an executive assistant after two years of unsuccessfully pursuing her Broadway dreams." (Anyone who doesn't see the irony here, raise their hand.)
Finally, who says the theatre isn't what it used to be? Look around: It's exactly what it used to be, at least it is this week. Through Nov. 13, Elaine Stritch is at Carnegie Hall playing Mimi Paragon in Noel Coward's Sail Away, the same role she first played to acclaim in 1961. (And, judging from the reviews, she's just as good now as she was then.) And, on Nov. 14, at the Majestic Theatre, Uta Hagen will play Martha in a benefit reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf -- the first time she's stepped into the role since leaving the original 1962 Broadway production. Her costars are Jonathan Pryce (taking over last minute for Anthony Hopkins), Matthew Broderick and Mia Farrow.
--By Robert Simonson