First came A Streetcar Named Desire, a fraught piece of humid, lantern-lit tragedy from Tennessee Williams that quite a few people are bent on calling the greatest American play of all time. And then, with a title not quite as poetic, there was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a British musical which has yet to be placed in the Pantheon, about a man named Caractacus, a country called Vulgaria and a car with wings.
Chitty has one thing in common with the central character in Streetcar, however: This week, it was dependent on the kindness of strangers. Strangers called critics. And were they kind? Somewhat. They agreed Chitty was good for the kiddie crowd. Beyond that, though, there was some hemming and hawing.
As for Streetcar, which was directed by Edward Hall, Sir Peter Hall's son—well, it may just prove to be strike three for any future British directors who come sniffing around the Williams estate. After the less than enthusiastic receptions afforded Anthony Page's 2003 Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and David Leveaux's go at The Glass Menagerie earlier this year, Yankee producers may think twice before picking up the bill on another New York-bound Virgin Atlantic flight. Then again, can anyone remember the last time reviewers wholly embraced a Broadway production of Tennessee Williams en masse? Probably not since Not About Nightingales back in 1999. And that was directed by...oops...Trevor Nunn, a Brit. There goes that theory.
The Drama Desk organization of critics, editors and reporters released their nominations for the 2004-05 season on April 28. Topping the list were three musicals: Monty Python’s Spamalot with 12; The Light in the Piazza with 11; and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with 10. A few days earlier, the Outer Critics Circles had bestowed 11 nominations to The Light in the Piazza, 10 to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 8 to Monty Python’s Spamalot and 6 to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. With the exception of the OCC's affection for Chitty, these tallies can been viewed as a preview the Tony Award musical battle to come. ***
The Broadway-bound musical Lennon, which got off to a bumpy critical start at San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre, decided to skip its scheduled Boston run and head right to New York for more rehearsal — a move which was generally perceived by observers to be what's known as "a bad sign." Writer-director Don Scardino is said to be reworking the script, though there is also talk that a new writer will be brought in.
The upcoming, pared-down, labor-saving Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd (9 actors only, all doubling as musicians!) found its Demon Barber in last season's Lincoln killer, Assassins Tony winner Michael Cerveris. As big as that news was, it was overshadowed by the unconfirmed, but pretty much certain casting of Patti LuPone as Mrs. Lovett. LuPone is a certified Broadway musical star who has, despite her status, passed nearly two decades without starring in a Broadway musical. Anything Goes in the late '80s was her last headlining gig as an actor-singer-dancer of the Great White Way. Before that, of course, came Evita, which put her on the Broadway map for all time. While waiting for someone to cast her, she has occupied her time with concert versions, both in New York and Chicago, of such musicals as Passion, Sunday in the Park With George and, yes, Sweeney Todd. She did the latter first with the New York Philharmonic May 4-6, 2000, at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, and later repeated her work in San Francisco and Chicago. All that practice seems to have paid off.