With only a few openings left in the spring season, Broadway has yet to hit one out of the park. Frost/Nixon has come closest, but even the sunny reviews for that drama were mainly focused on the lead performances of Frank Langella and Michael Sheen and Michael Grandage's production, rather than on the play itself. As for the others: Liev Schreiber in Talk Radio was giving a great performance in a not-so-great play; Kevin Spacey in Moon for the Misbegotten was giving a not-so-great performance in a great play; Inherit the Wind was still powerful or still creaky, depending on the opinion; Curtains was either good old-fashioned musical entertainment or just plain old-fashioned. Nothing was completely satisfactory. Even Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking had her detractors. Only The Pirate Queen unified the reviewers. Problem was, it unified them in disapproval.
Which brings us to the offerings of this week: Legally Blonde, the musical based on the Reese Witherspoon movie, which marked the directorial debut of Jerry Mitchell; Coram Boy, the costly London import based on a novel for young adults about the adventures of some storm-tossed, 18th-century orphans; and LoveMusik, the Harold Prince-directed musical based on the married life of Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill.
On paper, any one of them could have proved a critical smash. Blonde did boffo business in San Francisco. Coram did the same in London. And LoveMusik had great pre-opening buzz, as well as two Tony-winners in Donna Murphy and Michael Cerveris. Nonetheless, producers of all three were left the morning after their openings with a queasy feeling that there was more work ahead.
Legally Blonde was deemed slick, professional, entertaining and likable, but also somewhat empty, corporate and second-tier. Coram Boy was thought by some entrancing, stunning and wildly theatrical, and by others melodramatic, overdone and clichéd. With both sets of reviews, there was that defensive feeling you sometimes get from theatre critics, that they didn't want to be caught as the kind of suckers that are taken in by mere entertainment. (Oh, no! Not that!)
LoveMusik was a trickier case. The critics showed their respect for the project, bowing down to the talents involved (director Harold Prince, book writer Alfred Uhry, composer Kurt Weill). But they did so using a barrage of adjectives that usually don't go together. The show was tedious! But it was unmissable! It was a bold experiment, an audacious work! It was clunky and uninspired! Enchanting! Disappointing! The prose was positively schizophrenic, and readers just had to uncross their eyes and take a couple Tylenol. One chronicler called the show the season's most and least overwhelming musical. How would that look on a marquee? Next week brings the season's last three openings. Better hone that double-edged blade, Mr. Critic—it must be getting quite dull by now.
It'll be Old Home Week at Rent this coming summer. Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, the show's original Roger and Mark, will return to the Broadway production of Jonathan Larson's show. They'll join the troupe at the Nederlander Theatre July 30 for six weeks. Sure, they're a little older now. But it will be just like watching the movie!
Here's a development you didn't expect. The New York Post reported this week that The Roundabout Theatre Company may revive its 1998 Tony-winning revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret at Studio 54. The tabloid reported that the nonprofit theatre company will likely present the Sam Mendes-Rob Marshall production following its upcoming staging of Sunday in the Park with George at Studio 54, and that Alan Cumming, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee, would again star. Hey, it worked for Les Miz. But from now on I'm going to mighty suspicious of long-running shows that say they're closing.