Hurricane Floyd pelted the tri-state area with on-and-off torrential rain beginning late Wednesday, washing away most other news for a good 24 hours or so. Bridges, tunnels, highways and subways fell before its might, but Broadway stood strong. Not one show elected to cancel, even though the likelihood that ticketholders would get to Times Square on Thursday night was dim.
There were a couple theatrical casualties elsewhere. At the request of Millburn, NJ, police, The Paper Mill Playhouse canceled its two Thursday performances of Mame. And the long-running Off Broadway show Tony N' Tina's Wedding called off its Sept. 16 show.
By Friday morning, however, Manhattan skies were sunny and Floyd seemed but a dream. And, lo and behold, two Broadway shows had decided to close -- though neither shuttering had anything to do with the weather. Brian Dennehy, who won a Tony Award for the taxing role of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, announced he would take a permanent break from the Broadway production Nov. 7. Producers, unable to find a suitable replacement, decided hours later that the show would leave with him.
The second closing notice came from another Tony-winning play: Side Man. Rumors of Side Man's exit had circulated for months. Sometimes they hinged on star Frank Wood's departure. One day he was leaving to shoot a film. The next day, the film was delayed and he was back on board. In the end, Wood will take his last bow Sept. 28 (Michael O'Keefe taking his place) and the show will blow its last blast Oct. 31. (Wood, by the way, will be playing McGeorge Bundy in a Kevin Costner film about the Cuban Missile Crisis.)
The official notice of Side Man's death in New York coincided with the same play's birth in Chicago, where on Sept. 16 the Warren Leight drama inaugurated the 1999-2000 season at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Another Chicago company, The Goodman Theatre, also began its new season this week -- in this case with a home-grown project, theatre auteur Mary Zimmerman's latest, an adaptation of Homer's The Odyssey. Both the Goodman and Steppenwolf figured prominently in the nominations for Chicago's Jeff Awards, which annually honor Windy City stages. The Goodman netted 18 nods, while Steppenwolf collected 11. Four of the Goodman's nominations were for the Dennehy-Robert Falls Death of a Salesman, which, of course, began life at the Chicago institution. As chance would have it, the Jeff Awards will be announced on Nov. 8 -- the day after the play's company retires from Broadway.
On the West Coast, a cast headed by Nancy Dussault and Bebe Neuwirth led to the extension of American Conservatory Theatre's staging of The Three Penny Opera. Across the Canadian border, star power hindered rather than helped a show's progress; Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre was forced to delay Enigma Variations when star Donald Sutherland decided to complete work of the new Clint Eastwood film. A spokesman asserted that the postponement wouldn't affect the play's planned spring visit to Broadway.
In New York, meanwhile, some of the most-anticipated shows of the season were generating news before the curtain rose on their first preview. The Drama Dept.'s production of Douglas Carter Beane's latest comedy, The Country Club, announced a month-long extension before theatregoer one had laid eyes on the Off- Broadway production. And Playwrights Horizons' musicalization of a certain James Joyce story, a play which provokes interest by a mere tallying of its eclectic cast -- Christopher Walken, Blair Brown, John Kelly, Marni Nixon, Daisy Eagan, Stephen Spinella and the inseparable Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley, -- let it be known that a show's title need not necessarily dictate its chances for success: The Dead is sold out.
--By Robert Simonson