Survivor" and "Big Brother" have proven that people will sacrifice anything -- time, privacy, dignity -- to seize the spotlight on television. How much, though, will they give up to appear on stage? Two sets of producers will soon find out, as a couple interactive game-show-like offerings get underway Off-Broadway.
First out of the gate is Lifegame, a tested English product from the Improbable Theatre, the entertaining and bizarre folks who gave you Shockheaded Peter. Lifegame, which began previews at the Jane Street Theatre Sept. 12, takes pre-interviewed members of the populace and plops them on stage (audience members need not fear being unexpectedly dragged out of their chair and into the action), where a significant moment in their life -- a family outing, say -- is reenacted by a team of actors. The guest then has the chance to tell the company if they are either misrepresenting the event or are dead-on. And this happens eight times a week, a different person each time. Seemingly intent to head off common fears, the creators caution: "It's important to state Lifegame is not therapy, not psychodrama, not truth or dare. Nor is it our intention to be in any way invasive or to mine humor at the expense of our guest."
Game Show, meanwhile -- which begins selling tickets Sept. 18 and starts performances Oct. 10 at 45 Bleecker -- will likely be a more raucous affair, patterned, as it is, on an actual game show. Here, the audience is meant to be, well, an audience, of the studio variety you see every day on daytime television. Members are drafted as contestants and compete in a trivia-based game. Television cameras will be set on stage, filming the backstage, insider antics of such actors as Joel Blum and Michael McGrath, who play TV pros. In one way, at least, these reality-bending shows will not differ from the game show models that inspired them: there will be spoils. Game Show promised actual prizes for the winners; Lifegame a lovely parting gift.
Swing! received a parting gift from the Jujamcyn Theatres this week, though the Broadway show probably won't pick it up for some time. The Producers, the highly anticipated Mel Brooks musical to be directed by Susan Stroman, was announced to open at the St. James Theatre on April 19. The St. James is the place Swing! calls home. The news is not a big surprise; few people expected the nine-month-old dance show to last as long as it has. Sources have the revue hanging on until just after the new year, before relinquishing the stage to Nathan Lane and company.
The casting of Follies seems to be firming up. Treat Williams told Playbill On-Line that he is set for Buddy, and director Matthew Warchus confirmed, in Variety, Judith Ivey and Gregory Harrison for Sally and Ben. The remaining question is, who will be Phyllis, the last of the musical's four leads? Stay tuned. Two successful Off-Off-Broadway ventures of earlier this year have now graduated to the status of Off. Back in late spring, Lee Blessing's Cobb received good reviews in its Off-Broadway debut at the Melting Pot Theatre. It won an excellent review, however, from actor Kevin Spacey, who ponied up enough dough to keep the play running for two extra weeks. Now, he co-producing a commercial move to the Lucille Lortel Theatre, beginning in late October. (Spacey's throwing around a lot of money around lately -- he's also contributed $100,000 to the Screen Actors Guild's strike fund.) What with last spring's Chesapeake and an upcoming new work at the Signature Theatre Company, one might say New York is experiencing a tiny Lee Blessing revival.
Also graduating to a commercial run is Stephen Adly Guirgis' Jesus Hopped the A Train, the LabyRinth Theatre Company which director Philip Seymour Hoffman guided to a packed run in Chelsea last summer. The play, about two inmates at Rikers Island, will reopen at the Classic Stage Company space on Nov. 21.
Finally, the Broadway Television Network aired its first pay-per view program, a previously taped performance of the late Broadway hit, Smokey Joe's Cafe, on Sept. 10. Historically, any marriage between theatre and television has been a problematic, not to say troubled, one -- do people want to see theatre on television?; does theatre look good on television? So, many industry people were watching this experiment with interest, hoping it could provide some insight as to the prospects of a cable market for theatre content. So, how did it go? Well, that answer may take awhile. Early in the week, BTN sources said the figures were not ready but would be available in 7-10 days. Then, on Sept. 14, BTN president Bruce Brandwen told Playbill On-Line that hard numbers on the Smokey Joe's broadcast may be kept confidential for some time.
--By Robert Simonson