PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 2-8: Out-of-Towners

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 2-8: Out-of-Towners The big openings this week had New Yorkers flying to Central and Pacific Time locales, as the much-talked-about new Arthur Miller play Finishing the Picture opened at Chicago's Goodman Theatre and the musical The Opposite of Sex premiered at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Both have more than a fighting chance of reaching the Big City by season's end.

Finishing what picture? Well, probably 1961's "The Misfits," which Miller wrote, but the playwright won't say if that's actually the play's inspiration. But when you've got a story about a Hollywood flick going wildly off the track, with characters including a stern, moralizing screenwriter, a powerful director, and a beautiful and depressed female star who is manipulated by two megalomaniacal acting teachers, what's a person to surmise? The multiple attractions of a new Miller script, a Robert Falls production, the possibility of a New York transfer and the tantalizing prospect of playing parts based on people named Monroe, Huston and Strasberg helped net a top-flight cast, including Linda Lavin, Harris Yulin, Stephen Lang, Matthew Modine, Stacey Keach and Scott Glenn.

The same attractions brought out the critics in droves, who, alas, were none too enthused. The general reaction: Fascinating, yes, given the subject matter, and the fact that is was a new work by a leading playwright. But also static, long-winded, repetitive and, in message, a bit on the condescending side. All of which comments may slow down its journey to New York.

The reaction to The Opposite of Sex was sunnier, with most critics proclaiming the screen-to-stage transplant a successful operation. The darkly comic piece is the most high profile work yet from emerging composer Douglas J. Cohen. Its star Kerry Butler—who has become one of the actresses of choice in today's musical comedy world—plays a nymphette who visits disaster on every life she touches. Given the reception, no one will be surprised by a spring transfer to New York, where, in a season rather wanting for exciting new musicals, its chief competitor for laurels would likely be Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

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Daniel Goldfarb's play Modern Orthodox took its sweet time getting to New York (it got its regional premiere four years ago), but it is arriving in style. The cast of the Off-Broadway production will feature Molly Ringwald, Jason Biggs and Craig Bierko, with James Lapine at the helm. ***

The Los Angeles musical The Ten Commandments, which opened Sept. 27 at the Kodak Theatre, has already furnished thousands of people with hours of joy and entertainment. No, not the audience members. I'm talking about the readers who have avidly soaked in the many mean spirited reviews of the Val Kilmer vehicle. Such was the critical reception that BCBGMaxAzria Entertainment and 7Art, which present the show, have shaved the schedule to six shows a week, so as to further rehearse and incorporate changes. Following its Los Angeles debut, the biblical songfest is expected to tour to major venues in North America with a possible stop at Radio City Music Hall.

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Starring in an Elton John musical is not a job for wimps. The lead role in the upcoming Billy Elliot — The Musical will have three Billys. Unknowns James Lomas, George McGuire and Liam Mower are set to play the pubescent prancer in the London world premiere. The movie’s star, Jamie Bell, was about 14 years old at the time of filming, and his successors in the role are around the same age. Lomas is 14, McGuier 13 and Mower 12. The first night of the highly anticipated stage version of the movie "Billy Elliot" is scheduled for March 24, 2005. Three press nights are now promised, however—one for each boy.

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Erin Dilly, who is now best known to theatre devotees as the actress who didn't quite make it to the finish line as the Millie of Thoroughly Modern Millie, will after this season be better known as a performer owning the tasty moniker of Truly Scrumptious. That's the character she'll play in this spring's monolithic, English family entertainment import, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She'll share the stage (though not a seat in the famous flying car) with Jan Maxwell, who will play the evil Baroness Bomburst. Official opening at the Ford Center is April 28, 2005.