In the early weeks of December, the editors and staff of Playbill On-Line pulled out their notepads and revisited hundreds of past articles on our site to determine the 10 most important theatre stories in 1998.
What makes a story "important"?
We chose the trends, events, productions, people and milestones that had immediate -- and, possibly, lasting -- impact on the industry and theatregoers. Often, these were the stories that got a lot of ink, both electronically and on newsstands. This is the news that made us think more thoughtfully and feel more deeply about our shared experience of going to the theatre.
Complete coverage of any of Playbill On-Line's picks for the Top 10 theatre stories of 1998 can be accessed by typing keywords (for example, "Livent" or "Cabaret") in a News search on the Playbill On-line site.
Playbill On-Line's top 10 theatre stories of 1998 are: *The Livent Inc. Drama: The world's only public company devoted to musical theatre production opened Ragtime on Broadway in January, dumped founders Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb, investigated past "questionable" bookkeeping practices, brought on Michael Ovitz and Roy Furman as leaders, had its trading halted on U.S. and Canadian stock exchanges, named Roundabout Theatre's Todd Haimes as artistic director, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy papers, opened tryout runs of Fosse in Boston and Los Angeles (with Dec. 26 Broadway previews), fired hundreds of employees across North America, opened the Ford Center for the Performing Arts-Oriental Theatre and a Chicago Ragtime company, shuttered Show Boat on the road and closed its Ragtime national tour prematurely only to have Pace Theatrical Group take it over. If this isn't the theatre story of the year, what is?
*Triumphs and Travails of Roundabout Theatre: The Tony Award rich nonprofit theatre in Times Square was probably the most written about resident troupe in town. Its hit, Cabaret, won four Tony Awards and then went dark after a 43rd Street construction accident before moving to the former Studio 54. Roundabout was sued by owners of Cabaret's former venue, investigated (as were other theatres) for box office practices and praised for its Tony Award-winning revival of A View From the Bridge, which, along with 1776, was moved to a larger Broadway house. Artistic director Todd Haimes split his time between Roundabout and Livent, where he is also artistic director. Roundabout also lured a frenzy of ticketbuyers to its revival of the comic musical, Little Me, starring Martin Short. All the while, it looked toward developing a new home away from its current space.
*Retooling of The Scarlet Pimpernel: New producer Radio City Entertainment took over Broadway's up-and-running Scarlet Pimpernel in July and decided to have its creators (along with new director Robert Longbottom) rewrite, recast and reimagine the musical adventure. The show reopened to better reviews than it got in 1997. With a new ad campaign, new songs and new energy (retaining Tony-nominated Douglas Sills), audiences are embracing the swashbuckler.
*Construction Accident Closes Times Square: A construction elevator collapsed on West 43rd Street in Manhattan in July, killing a woman and shutting down the nearby Roundabout Theatre on Broadway, plus 43rd Street's smash Cabaret and the Off-Broadway musical, Smoke on the Mountain. The shows were closed for a month, costing the troupes thousands of dollars. Cabaret recovered, but Smoke disappeared.
*Corpus Christi Controversy: A Terrence McNally play about a gay Jesus in Texas proved art can still be the cause of outrage. Religious groups protested the Manhattan Theatre Club's programming and anonymous threats were made, so MTC canceled the show for safety reasons. After inflamed artists protested the cancellation, MTC changed its mind, and on opening night thousands of anti-McNally marchers carried crucifixes, shouted and prayed while pro-art marchers silently carried placards about freedom of expression. Critics at the major dailies shrugged at the play itself, doubting whether it was worth the controversy surrounding it.
*The Death of Jerome Robbins: The giant director-choreographer who staged Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy and West Side Story died in July at age 79. His passion for meshing story, song and dance immeasurably influenced several generations of directors and choreographers, leaving an imprint on current and, likely, future shows.
*Nicole Kidman Mania: Did anyone guess an 1896 Arthur Schnitzler play (Reigen) could cause such unbridled excitement -- a glaring international spotlight -- on the West End and Broadway? Nicole Kidman's semi-naked self (also a full-frontal Iain Glen) in David Hare's Schnitzler-based The Blue Room helped bring some positive celebrity attention to the Great White Way. Schnitzler, by way of Kidman, on the cover of Newsweek? Who would have thought?
*Women Directors Win Tony Awards: For the first time since the Tony Awards started in 1947, women won the two director honors on Broadway for a play (Garry Hynes, Beauty Queen of Leenane) and a musical (Julie Taymor, The Lion King).
*Furious Off-Broadway Activity: In the past couple seasons, Off Broadway welcomed such new houses as the Daryl Roth Theatre, Century Center and the Gramercy Theatre. Yet, in 1998, available Off-Broadway spaces remained at a premium. Hit plays such as Stupid Kids, This Is Our Youth and Wit vied for these commercial houses in a kind of booking ballet, and still more plays are waiting in the wings. For a producer looking to bring a serious play into New York, or a theatre company wishing to transfer a hit, Off-Broadway has become the most affordable -- and coveted -- option.
*Alley Theatre of Houston: Presenting American premieres of Tennessee Williams' "lost" early play, the Broadway-bound Not About Nightingales and Frank Wildhorn's new musical, The Civil War (also headed to New York), the Texas nonprofit proved again that American regional theatre is fertile soil, a rich testing ground for new and newly-imagined works.
The Playbill On-Line staff includes editor-in-chief David Lefkowitz, senior editor Robert Simonson, staff writers Kenneth Jones and Sean McGrath, and editorial assistant Christine Ehren.
-- By Kenneth Jones