PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 4-10: Critics Happen

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 4-10: Critics Happen
 
How badly do critics want to see David Hare’s Stuff Happens, the headline-grabbing new play about the Bush White House and the Iraq war? Too badly, as far at the National Theatre is concerned.

Violating the convention that previews are verboten to critics, the Guardian, Independent and Times newspapers sent writers to early performances and printed the findings. The Guardian said it had "assembled an expert panel, including politicians, leading commentators and a man who actually fought there, to give their verdicts live from the first night." The National cried "critiques by any other name..."

Official Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington later wrote an article in the newspaper calling for previews to be abolished.

"The system is clearly breaking down," he stormed. "What we have now is the worst of all worlds, one in which the public is conned and newspapers launch pre-emptive strikes."

Actor and director Simon Callow responded in print, decrying the journos' “pretence, the double-think and the hypocrisy [of] the editorial compulsion to pull the dish out of the oven before it’s cooked.”

*** And then there were two. One of the three Disney-born musicals which have been playing on Broadway for what seemed like forever exited on Sept. 5. It was Aida, the last to open and the first to close. Of course, many another musical would give its wings for Aida's four-and-one half-year run and profits of $12 million.

Disney's first Broadway musical, Beauty and the Beast, brought the corporate giant financial success in the theatre. It's second, The Lion King, earned it critical success (and financial success to boot). Aida fell somewhere in between, winning far less kudos than King and running a shorter time than Beast. It's primary artistic achievement, historically speaking, is probably that it gave the world Elton John's first score written directly for the theatre. Secondary achievements include the creation of two musical theatre stars, Heather Headley and Sherie Rene Scott.

Disney probably won't stay a two-show Broadway empire for long. Mary Poppins, a joint production with Cameron Mackintosh, begins an out-of-town tryout (the town being London) at the Bristol Hippodrome on Sept. 15. New York City won't have to wait long to see a title as marketable as that. In the meantime, On the Record, which features songs from the Disney canon — both from classic Disney films and Disney's Broadway outings — and will be set in a recording studio, gets it premiere at The Palace Theatre in Cleveland, OH, Nov. 9-21. A long national tour follows.

And then there's Tarzan, which had a reading in early 2004, and contains aspects similar to all three existing Disney titles. Like Beauty and Lion, it's drawn from an animated movie. Like Aida, is has a score by a pop star (Phil Collins), not to mention the fact that Adam Pascal took part in the reading. And like Lion, it had aesthetically adventurous director attached (set designer Bob Crowley). Who will arrive first to take Aida's place on Broadway? Wait and see.

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In a bit of casting that theatre observers could have guessed in their sleep, Lincoln Center Theater favorite Richard Easton (English play + LCT = Easton employment) and Dana Ivey will star in the upcoming Broadway revival of Sheridan's comedy classic The Rivals at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Now, what's Byron Jennings doing these days?

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LaChanze kicked off what will be a big season for her with the Sept. 9 preview of the world premiere musical adaptation of The Color Purple at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. The Broadway-bound show is based on the well-known Alice Walker novel (which inspired the better-known film), and will run at the Georgia stage through Oct. 17 before a fall 2005 berth on Broadway.

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Casting was announced for the George Street Playhouse's upcoming mounting of Hallelujah, Baby!, a revised version of the 1968 Tony-winning Best Musical. George Street favorite Suzzanne Douglas will star as Georgina, the role originated on Broadway — to Tony-winning effect — by Leslie Uggams. Another Tony winner Ann Duquesnay, will play Georgina's mother. Arthur Laurents directs.

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The Boy From Oz doesn't close until Sept. 12, but a couple events of the past week cemented star Hugh Jackman's reputation as the golden boy of Broadway. One, the show—which for so long wasn't expected to break even, mainly because Jackman couldn't stay around on forever—broke even. Two, tickets to the final performance were going for thousands of dollars on eBay. When you're hot...

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