Gwen Verdon unexpectedly died in her sleep on Oct. 18. Though the four-time Tony winner and musical theatre legend was 75, she had always seemed so alive, so vibrant, so much a redhead, up until the last that her death still came as a surprise. Obituaries credited her rightly as being probably the best dancer ever to grace the Broadway stage. Only one of her performances, as Lola in Damn Yankees, was, however, preserved for posterity (on film). Still, Verdon passed at a time when it is abundantly possible to take in the work she did with husband, director and choreographer, Bob Fosse, albeit indirectly. Ann Reinking recreated much of the dancing Fosse devised for Chicago in the current revival of the musical; steps that Verdon first executed. And Verdon was a creative consultant on the revue Fosse, in which other performers now embody many of the dances that made Verdon the star she was. Of course, they probably don’t do them exactly as Verdon did, or as well. But, one can imagine.
Jewish Repertory Theatre’s Big Potato has turned into something of a hot potato. The new Arthur Laurents play — a dark comedy about a Polish-born Queens, NY, beautician who lures a suspected former Nazi to her apartment — was scheduled to open on Oct. 22. Then came word from Laurents, who was apparently displeased with the production, that the show’s opening had been postponed. Just hours later, however, JRT refuted Laurents’ claim and said the play would bow as planned. “I believe in the play, but this production just isn’t good,” Laurents told The New York Times. "I've opened over 120 shows in New York,” countered JRT artistic director, Ran Avni, to Playbill On-Line, “and if I were to open [solely on the basis of] what the critical reaction would be, I would have given up on some hits... [It’s] a very important play dealing with important issues.” So, at least everyone agrees about the quality of the play. But, what about that title?
If the National Actors Theatre ever manages to open its planned staging of Judgment at Nuremberg, it looks like the show will star Maximilian Schell and George Grizzard. Grizzard hasn’t appeared on a Broadway stage since winning a Tony for A Delicate Balance. And Eartha Kitt, who typically spaces out her Broadway appearances in terms of decades, may be back on the Rialto in the fall of 2001. Kitt starred in an Oct. 2 NYC reading of John Meyer's comedy-thriller, Zazou. The event, produced by the not-for-profit outfit The Times Square Group, went so well that Kitt has committed to the project. The producers are aiming at a not-for-profit mounting in September 2001. If all goes well, a commercial transfer to a small Broadway house is the plan.
It was a big week — though not necessarily a good week judging from the receptions — for opening shows in New York City. Craig Lucas, whose The Dying Gaul created quite a stir a couple seasons back, unveiled his latest, Stranger, at the Vineyard Theatre on Oct. 17. And Oct. 19 brought up the curtain on a trio of attractions: Les Mizrahi, the Drama Dept. cabaret show that marks designer Isaac Mizrahi’s stage debut; the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Sean O’Casey’s landmark drama, Juno and the Paycock; and Neil Simon’s latest attempt to reclaim his place on Broadway, The Dinner Party. Also, David Hasselhoff became the latest and perhaps most improbable figure to embody Frank Wildhorn’s musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s immortal “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Finally, he is arguably the most eminent scholar of Shakespeare in the Western World. So, why not let Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at NYU, speak the speech? That’s just what Bloom will do on Oct. 30, when he plays Sir John Falstaff in an American Repertory Theatre reading of The Falstaffiad, which celebrates "the corpulent knight" through Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V. Bloom, large and unkempt, certainly has the Falstaff look down. And he also has an innate enthusiasm to match Fat John’s — though his is for reading and scholarship and John’s is for drinking, eating and whoring. But that’s a minor point. — By Robert Simonson