In the uncertain economic aftermath of last month's catastrophe, one would have guessed that Broadway offerings from the desks of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg would be among the victims, their stern messages and pained theatrics hurtling audiences onto the streets. Instead, the wintry creations of these sons of Scandinavia are helping to heat of The Street as it approaches full recovery. The critical toast of the town last Friday was director Nicholas Martin and adaptor Jon Robin Baitz's unpretentious production of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, starring Kate Burton as perhaps the most approachable, if still formidable, Hedda in Broadway history. This week the critics are raising their glasses to director Sean Mathias' staging of Richard Greenberg's rendition of Strindberg's Dance of Death, starring Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren.
Hedda wasn't exactly packing them in during previews, but since the reviews came out sales have spiked. And as talk of Burton's fast track to theatre trophy heaven pick up steam, the show will probably win a larger audience. As for the Strindberg, stars or no stars, it was hard to believe that a play featuring the word "death" and coming from an author known to have a sense of humor second to an undertaker would survive the recent crunch. But survive it has, and by posting the best numbers for any straight play on Broadway. After The New York Times called McKellen "as thrilling as theater gets," seats for the limited run should be hard to come by.
With the opening of Mamma Mia! next week and Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway entering previews, Broadway should continue on the autumn winning streak which began with the unveiling of Urinetown. And though the powers that be continue to build new lifeboats to save shows from future disasters -- including the Theatre Development Fund's plans to provide tax relief for theatre investors and create a rainy day support fund red by benefit events -- the best medicine the industry could prescribe for itself right now (as ever) is more productions that score with the critics and/or capture the public's attention. On that score, Broadway has been doing itself a fine service so far.
So has Off-Broadway, which became a hit-making machine last week. Three productions — Douglas Wright's Unwrap Your Candy at the Vineyard Theatre; director Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at Second Stage; and Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things at the Promenade Theatre — were welcomed with opened arms and look to have healthy futures. Zimmerman's adaptation of Ovid has already extended a full month.
The next month is full of other productions with the potential to further Off Broadway's Midas touch, including the dependably entertaining Elaine Stritch in an autobiographical show at the Public Theater ; and the Sarah Jessica Parker starrer by David Lindsay-Abaire Wonder of the World at Manhattan Theatre Club . In the meantime, perhaps producers might want to take a look as Rosmersholm or The Pelican. -- by Robert Simonson