PBOL's THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 2-8: Making Contact

News   PBOL's THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 2-8: Making Contact Well, it took a while, but the 1999-2000 season finally has its first bona fide hit. Contact, choreographer Susan Stroman and bookwriter John Weidman's exhilarating new "dance play," opened at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse to rapturous reviews, and promptly extended until Jan. 2, 2000.
Boyd Gaines and Deborah Yates make Contact; Eve Ensler and Hazelle Goodman; Judith Ivey in Voices in the Dark.
Boyd Gaines and Deborah Yates make Contact; Eve Ensler and Hazelle Goodman; Judith Ivey in Voices in the Dark. (Photo by Ensler Photo by Aubrey Reuben, Ivey Photo by Joan Marcus)

Well, it took a while, but the 1999-2000 season finally has its first bona fide hit. Contact, choreographer Susan Stroman and bookwriter John Weidman's exhilarating new "dance play," opened at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse to rapturous reviews, and promptly extended until Jan. 2, 2000.

The show sent the New York Times' usually taciturn Ben Brantley soaring into the dizzy, punch-drunk prose he employs only when a musical has sent him dancing out onto the sidewalk. "The most potent antidepressant available in New York at the moment can't be had by prescription, and it isn't measured in milligrams," he led off. Much more along the same lines followed.

The show looks poised to become a triumph for all involved. For Stroman, it marks an opportunity to show New York how she's grown since she burst onto the scene with Crazy for You -- an opportunity denied her last year when Equity put the kibosh on the Atlantic transfer of her innovative London production of Oklahoma!. Weidman, who has the dubious distinction of being the book writer on Sondheim's least successful musicals (Pacific Overtures, Assassins) has finally been handed a likely commercial success. And in regard to the stars, Karen Ziemba has been given the best role of her career, Boyd Gaines one of the best (certainly the most adventurous), and Deborah Yates, as the Girl in the Yellow Dress, has been duly discovered, with nearly every review comparing her to Cyd Charisse. (Let's hope they mean in dancing, rather than acting.)

Brantley fairly pleaded in his review that the show be transferred to a Broadway house and sources do have LCT pondering moving the show to the Vivian Beaumont, though nothing could be confirmed at press time.

Despite the shuttering of a few shows (we'll get to them in a bit), the week was upbeat on the whole. Smaller hits rose up and presented themselves. Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, which has more lives than a cat, opened at the Westside on Oct. 3 and is reportedly doing brisk business. And the Vineyard Theatre's Fully Committed -- playwright Becky Mode and performer Mark Setlock's skewering of Manhattan's high-toned eateries and the lengths to which people will go to land a reservation at them -- extended to Oct. 30 after receiving a clutch of sanguine notices. Into every season, however, a little rain must fall, and three relatively young shows won't see Oct. 11. Summer '69, the musical remembrance of Woodstock, will end its run at the Douglas Fairbanks on Oct. 10. That date also marks the last performance at the Promenade Theatre of the ribald comedy Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight. Two of the many shows circling the Off-Broadway scene quickly seized upon the vacated real estate: Last Train to Nibroc will take the Fairbanks, while If Memory Serves, starring Elizabeth Ashley, will move into the Promenade.

Meanwhile, on Broadway, the first show of the season is the first show to close: John Pielmeier's thriller Voices in the Dark, starring Judith Ivey, goes dark on Oct. 10. According to the producers, the play "never recovered from the reviews." At press time, the Longacre's next tenant most likely will be Cheryl L. West's Jar the Floor, which concluded a successful run at Second Stage last month.

In other significant openings this week, Brian Friel's latest, Give Me Your Answer, Do! bowed at the Gramercy Theatre Off-Broadway. Tina Landau's New York-bound Space opened at the Mark Taper Forum. And Manhattan Theatre Club got its season underway with what must be one of the most oddly titled plays of the year, Shelagh Stephenson's An Experiment with an Air Pump.

Meanwhile, in the land of revivals, composers and bookwriters don't seem to be able to leave well enough alone. Down in Florida, Peter Stone is busy tweaking the book of the Broadway-bound Finian's Rainbow. And John Weidman's noodling with his work on Pacific Overtures has turned the current New York University revival of the musical into a sought-after ticket.

At the Goodspeed Opera House, Sheldon Harnick and Jerome Bock are back together for the first time in years, adding a new scene and reinserting a discarded song into a new revival of one of their neglected works, 1966's The Apple Tree. An equally neglected work by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1958's Flower Drum Song, received an Oct. 5 reading in New York. Playwright David Henry Hwang revised the script, about the commingling of Americanized Chinese and recent immigrants in 1950s Chinatown, and Robert Longbottom directed.

--By Robert Simonson