They took away the porno shops and cheap lunch counters. They tore down the short, dirty, brick buildings and erected in their place tall, gleaming, glass boxes. They replaced large neon signs with even larger ones. They physically moved a century-old theatre a few hundred yards down the block. Conde Nast, Reuters, Disney and ABC took up residence. The area became safe, for God's sake.
Over the past four years, it has sometimes felt like the City Fathers wouldn't be satisfied until every inch of Times Square and the theatre district was made over top to bottom. Well, maybe that is their plan. The news came down this week that, before the year 2000 arrives, the very sidewalks and roads beneath New York theatregoers' feet will be altered.
It's no news to anyone who works in Times Square that the place has become swollen with people. To give the throngs more sidewalk on which to jostle each other, the triangular island curiously known as Duffy Square will be expanded on "a semi-permanent basis" five feet north along West 47th Street, and seven feet west along 7th Avenue, according to City officials. (Given that the area's crowds aren't likely to disappear after Jan. 1, 2000, look to see that "semi-permanent" deal become permanent rather quickly.)
Additionally, the streets between Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue, running south from 49th Street to 43rd Street will all be resurfaced. All the better for folks to stand upon on Dec. 31, and stare up at the New Year's Eve Ball, a bauble fit for a World's Fair, weighing 1,070 pounds and covered with 504 crystal triangles, created gratis by Waterford Crystal.
How will this all affect Broadway's theatres? It won't. They'll be closed for the night. The official decree by the League of American Theatres and Producers comes just a few months after the League agreed to a request by the NYC Police Department to close its shows, a request which was soon after derided by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and several producers. A celebration of another sort took place at the Broadhurst Theatre on Sept. 21. Leave it to show folk to gather together in numbers and sing their hearts out about stamps. Of course they weren't ordinary stamps, but the recently introduced postage honoring Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Meredith Willson.
Kristin Chenoweth sang "I Cain't Say No" from Oklahoma!, Faith Prince recreating Miss Adelaide's "Lament" from Guys and Dolls, and Barbara Cook sang "Till There Was You," from The Music Man, a show in which she originally starred. Among those offering a few words was Kitty Carlisle Hart, who knew all of the songwriters save one -- the only one sharing her and late husband Moss Hart's name: Lorenz Hart.
Another Broadway composer, the very much alive Stephen Sondheim, was busy making slightly more news than usual this week. As if Putting It Together, Wise Guys and Do I Hear a Waltz? at the George Street Playhouse weren't enough, Off-Broadway's Second Stage is going to import the Chicago-based Pegasus Players' production of Sondheim's early, early work Saturday Night for January 2000. Kathleen Marshall will direct.
Concerning Do I Hear a Waltz?, the seldom-seen 1965 Sondheim Richard Rodgers-Arthur Laurents collaboration, the composer and theatre had gotten rather hush-hush of late. The October production is now called a "work-in-progress," and will be shielded as much as possible from the hot spotlight of the media. Laurents and Sondheim are doing some slight revisions, though the nature of the changes is largely unknown. One thing that is clear is that Penny Fuller (A New Brain) will star.
More Sondheim-related alterations are being made at the undergraduate drama department of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where Sondheim and John Weidman's Pacific Overtures, the 1976 musical about of Japan's evolution from insular island to industrial giant, will be presented Oct. 14-23. Book writer Weidman is said to be working on new book material for the show's finale, "Next," which fast-forwards 150 years of history (1853 to the present).
In casting news, Diane Venora is out to prove you can't play Gertrude too much in one season; she will be Hamlet's murderous mother in both an upcoming film starring Ethan Hawke and the Public Theater's fall production, starring Liev Schreiber.
Donna Murphy will be spending the fall in a much smaller theatre than she has recently become accustomed to. What's more, she won't be singing. The two-time Tony winner will play an author in Marsha Norman's Trudy Blue at Off-Broadway's tiny MCC Theatre.
And New York theatre's loss was Boston's theatre's gain when hot director Nicholas Martin (Betty's Summer Vacation, Bosoms and Neglect, Fully Committed) accepted the post of artistic director at the Huntington Theatre Company, effective fall 2000.
A loss to the entire theatre community and the world at large came on Sept. 22 with the news of the passing of George C. Scott. A great talent at tragedy (Death of a Salesman, Richard III), comedy (Present Laughter, "Dr. Strangelove") and the man to go to for volcanic-iconic performances ("Patton"), Scott's magnetic presence, titanic energy and discipline and devotion to his art resulted in 40 years of indelible performances. The lights on Broadway dimmed for a minute on Thursday in his honor. After the departure of such a great artist, they will seem a little less bright for some time to come.
-- By Robert Simonson