Philly's Walnut Cracks 50K Subscriber Mark

News   Philly's Walnut Cracks 50K Subscriber Mark Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre recently passed the 50,000 subscriber mark -- the highest level of subscribership in the company's 17-year history as a regional venue.

Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre recently passed the 50,000 subscriber mark -- the highest level of subscribership in the company's 17-year history as a regional venue.

According to a Walnut press office release, the Mainstage is subscribed to at 78 percent capacity, while the Independence Studio on 3 space is 85 percent subscriber-filled. The theatre credits its recent hit mounting of Kopit & Yeston's musical Phantom will spurring sales and interest in the venue, while Neil Simon's Hotel Suite and the musical Grand Hotel were also strong draws.

Founded in 1809, the Walnut Street Theatre is the oldest still-in operation playhouse in America. The Walnut was a Shubert tour and pre Broadway venue from the 1940s-1970s. In 1963, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark. In 1983, the not-for-profit Walnut Street Theatre Company was formed by current artistic director Bernard Havard. Future plans include constructing a flexible 350-seat space.

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As for the Walnut Street mainstage season, it's a roster of plain janes and outcasts, featured in Buddy, The Heiress, Phantom, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and La Cage aux Folles. Though the five productions have no specific connection, each centers on an outsider either forcing his way into the spotlight or finding contentment in being left alone and living differently from others.

Opening the season, Sept. 7-Oct. 24 (officially opening Sept. 15), was Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, followed by Phantom (Nov. 9 Jan. 9, 2000). Alfred Uhry's Tony-winning The Last Night of Ballyhoo is currently on the boards (Jan. 18-March 5). A look at a mid scale Jewish family in "Gone With The Wind"-era Atlanta, Ballyhoo centers on two cousins, one pretty and socially accepted, the other more plain and getting desperate to find a husband.

After Ballyhoo goes belly up, the Walnut gets the Goetzes -- Ruth and Augustus, that is, authors of The Heiress, based on Henry James' novel "Washington Square." A 1995 Broadway staging of the show starring Cherry Jones won the Tony Award for Best Revival. The Heiress, running March 14-April 30, tells of a painfully shy young woman who falls in love with a dashing bounder.

Finishing the season, May 16-July 2, are Georges and Albin, the loving couple at the heart of La Cage aux Folles. The two are openly, contentedly gay (Georges runs a nightclub, Albin cross-dresses for the nightly revues), but they're suddenly forced to hide their sexual leanings when Georges' straight son wants to marry into a prudish family. Harvey Fierstein penned the libretto and Jerry Herman the score for this Tony winning musical.

Subscriptions to the Walnut season range from $40 (students/seniors) to $202. For tickets and information call (215) 574-3598.

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As for the Independence Studio On 3, Will Stutts has returned to the venue with his eighth world premiere, Edwin Forrest, Feb. 1-13. Forrest was one of the first great American tragedians, as well as a native son of Philadelphia.

Feb. 29-March 12 then brings remembrances of a great comedienne, Beatrice Lillie. Steven Bloom and Susan Borofsky's Every Other Inch a Lady recalls the life of this stage star. Bloom directs, with Borofsky starring.

One of the more popular and acclaimed plays on the regional circuit, Vigil, arrives March 28-April 9. Morris Panych's dark comedy tells of a lonely bank clerk impatiently awaiting the expected death of his aunt. Director and theatre critic Frank Burd will stage the piece.

Old age again takes the stage in Visiting Mr. Green, running April 25-May 21. This Off-Broadway hit (a vehicle for Eli Wallach and then Hal Linden) tells of a yuppie who accidentally hits an old Jewish man with his car. As penance, the young exec has to look in on Mr. Green and make sure he's properly taken care of. A friendship develops -- that is, until the young man's sexual orientation becomes an ideological barrier.

-- By David Lefkowitz