PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 15-22: Oskar's Watch

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 15-22: Oskar's Watch Very early on the morning of April 21, Oskar Eustis, the incoming artistic director of the Public Theater, faced the New York theatre press for the first time. The reason for the catered and (by theatre standards) rather posh press conference was the announcement of the shows that will make up Eustis' first season, as well as a couple scheduled the season after that, including—in what probably made the biggest splash—a Central Park Mother Courage starring Meryl Streep in 2006.
Oskar Eustis, with his wife, at the opening night of The Light in the Piazza
Oskar Eustis, with his wife, at the opening night of The Light in the Piazza Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The 2005-06 season will include See What I Wanna See, a new musical by Michael John LaChiusa which may end up starring Audra McDonald; Rinne Groff's The Ruby Sunrise, which Eustis directed up at Trinity Rep in Providence; and the world premieres of José Rivera's School of the Americas, David Grimm's Measure for Pleasure Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy, and Diana Son's Satellites—all playwrights who have worked within the Public's walls before.

As previously announced, Central Park's Delacorte Theatre will this summer be filled by As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Eustis stressed that he intends to continue the mix of Bard and new plays that he considers the hallmark of the Public's history. Eustis and executive director Mara Anne W. Manus had plenty to say on other subjects as well. He wants to find a way to somehow bring the artists that have made the Public cabaret space Joe's Pub onto the theatre's stages. He plans to continue the New Work Now! reading series, which showcases the plays of new voices, but has also founded a new program called "New Work Then," which will feature readings of storied Public successes such as The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Short Eyes. Eustis is also bringing former P.S. 122 head Mark Russell (a one-time candidate for Eustis' job) in from the cold by next year hosting Russell's recently born "Under the Radar" festival of fresh work and artists. Among his other plans and hopes for the future are a possible capital campaign to replenish the endowment, a renovation of the Public's lobby, six-to-12 $20,000 playwriting commissions a year and university-style endowed chairs, complete with salaries and benefits, to be held be promising and prominent playwrights.

The man does not lack for ideas.

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The Light in the Piazza—composer Adam Guettel's long-awaited follow-up to Floyd Collins—opened at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre on April 18. Most of the reviews tempered their ardent admiration of Guettel's work with reservations about the themes and execution of the story—about a childlike American woman who, while on holiday in Florence with her protective mother, falls for a young Italian man. Everyone agreed, however, that Victoria Clark, as the mother, delivered a performance of rare depth and feeling. More than one reviewer called it the female musical performance of the season. ***

One of the shows that will likely go up against Piazza for the Best Musical Tony Award—Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—showed it wasn't going down without a fight. The musical, which has been battling its image as underdog to Spamalot since arriving on Broadway, announced that starting April 27, 50,000 special limited edition cast albums of the show will be handed out free of charge. The unprecedented move is no doubt intended to spur word of mouth about the score and cast. The disc, on Ghostlight Records, will not be available in stores until May 10—that day is, perhaps not coincidentally, when the Tony nominations are announced.

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One show that doesn't have to sweat the Tony race overly much, the much maligned Good Vibrations, announced a closing date. Few shows have so angered critics by their very existence as has this jukebox musical employing the hits of the Beach Boys. But, as of April 24, they won't have John Carrafa to kick around anymore.

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Finally, on April 18, Christina Applegate reaped the rewards of her tenaciousnes and sheer determination: she actually performed in the Broadway revival of Sweet Charity that was built around her. It was the actress' first appearance in the show since breaking her foot in a March 11 show in Chicago. Co-star Denis O'Hare marked the occasion by presenting Applegate with flowers and praising her in a curtain speech. As for standby Charlotte d'Amboise, who spelled Applegate in Boston and during the first week of Broadway previews—she returned to the Ambassador to play Roxie Hart in Chicago that very night. It's the same job she had when the call came from the real Windy City six weeks ago.

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