Much of the art news spotlight was hogged over the past week by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, as its battled to keep the flames of culture and free expression alive against the ever-increasing gusts of hot air coming from City Hall and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. But whereas many of the BMA's fellow museums kept largely silent during the controversy, one prominent member of the theatre community has come to the aid of the beleaguered institution.
Jane Alexander, Tony-winning actress and four-year veteran of the National Endowment for the Arts, will be the chief speaker at an Oct. 1 rally outside the BMA. Alexander was chair of the NEA from 1993 to 1997 and is probably the closest thing the U.S. has to an artist-authority figure. The rally, sponsored by the ACLU, will be from 5 PM to 7 PM.
Back in Manhattan, another New York cultural landmark, Radio City Music Hall, is ready to reopen Oct. 4 after a seven-month restoration which forced the 1999 Tony Awards to retreat to the Gershwin Theatre after two years in the Art Deco palace. The Tonys' Radio City day were rosy ones, not only in their hostess (Ms. O'Donnell), but in the ratings. No one is yet saying whether the award ceremony will return to its erstwhile home, or whether O'Donnell will return with it.
Most of the other big theatre stories of the week involved big casting. Annie Get Your Gun finally 'fessed up to coaxing soap diva Susan Lucci into the cowgirl boots of theatre diva Bernadette Peters, when Peters takes a three-week vacation over the holidays. Cabaret's Ron Rifkin found his first post-Tony stage role, as a pompous poet in David Hirson's Broadway-bound Wrong Mountain. And Jekyll & Hyde's Christiane Noll and Noise/Funk's Ann Duquesnay will be seen on Broadway again Oct. 19 when they join It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues. (From the quasi-operatic pop of Jekyll to the twee chamber music of Little by Little to the blues of Blues, Noll can be counted among the most versatile actresses currently working the American musical scene.)
And for those who like their talent bred on the small screen, they could hardly find a better production than TV guru Garry Marshall's upcoming staging of Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart. On one stage at Burbank's Falcon Theatre will be Morgan Fairchild ("Flamingo Road"), Faith Ford ("Murphy Brown") and Crystal Bernard ("Wings"). Let's hope somebody in this crew remembers they're doing a play. Of course, stars are no guarantee your show will sell. For, in a season of big names, new musicals a plenty and important revivals, the biggest selling Broadway show has zero famous performers and a twenty-year-old score penned by three guys with no theatre experience. This past week, the advance of Saturday Night Fever, the London smash based on the 1977 John Travolta film, surpassed $15 million, far outdistancing any competition.
Producer Manny Kladitis says the show is taking in $100,000 a day, with ticket-buyers hailing from the predictable Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (where the musical is set) and New Jersey, as well as the less explainable Florida and Mississippi. "We have a show everyone knows and is comfortable with buying tickets to," Kladitis told Playbill On-Line. "I told [fellow producer] Robert Stigwood that this is going to be better with an American cast, because this is our story."
-- By Robert Simonson