PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 12-18: Idol Worship

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 12-18: Idol Worship
 
As anyone who follows the theatre scene knows, the massive popularity of the talent show "American Idol" has already changed the way Broadway musicals are sung (Wicked's "Defying Gravity," anyone?) and sustained, as "Idol" runner-ups continue to fill out the ranks of Rent and Hairspray. Now, the reality series has started to influence the way shows are cast from the get-go.

"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" The answer to that musical question, according to the producers of a new West End staging of The Sound of Music, is to cast the guitar-strumming governess through an "Idol"-like reality show. The series, which also goes by the title of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?," began its run on BBC-1 on July 29. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer David Ian are co-producing the upcoming revival.

Nationwide auditions for the role began April 22 in Belfast. Two-hundred potential Marias made it to the London callbacks, and 52 were chosen from that group. After an intensive four-day session, the 52 were whittled down to 20 possible Marias. Lloyd Webber then invited the 20 hopefuls to perform at his Sydmonton estate in front of a live audience. (Is there anyone in the theatre world who hasn't been invited to Sydmonton at this point? I mean, besides myself.) Half of the group was chosen to participate in the live reality show, where each singing actress has the chance to demonstrate why she should earn the old "Do Re Mi" as London's latest Maria von Trapp.

Both Lloyd Webber and Ian are involved in the new television series, acting as opinionated judges in the "Idol" mode. Stage star John Barrowman and vocal coach Zoe Tyler are also judges. After the adjudicators carp and comment, viewers vote by phone each week for their favorite candidate. (Letting non-professional laymen cast big stage shows; why didn't I think of that?)

This, shall we say, interesting idea has already spread like wildfire. Recently, it was announced that an NBC reality television show would be used to cast the next Sandy and Danny for a June 2007 Broadway revival of Grease. Its name? Naturally, "You're the One That We Want." Tony Award-winner Kathleen Marshall will direct and choreograph the new staging as well as judge the competition — along with Grease co-creator Jim Jacobs and (him again?!) theatre producer David Ian. (The future of this project, however, may be uncertain. If reports are to believed, the idea for the Grease show was one Lloyd Webber discussed with Ian, and the composer has since cried "thief" and issued a "cease and desist" letter.)

There's more. The producers of the upcoming holiday musical How the Grinch Stole Christmas! are also canvassing the public for their star "Who" in the Dr. Seuss musical. Children ages eight to fourteen, who are no taller than five feet, can audition for the role by creating a video tape displaying their talent. Tapes must be received by Aug. 30, and finalists — who will be chosen by the show's director — will appear on the "Today Show" Sept. 7. The winner of the "Who" competition will be announced at that time. And these winners, will they become the nation's next Kelly Clarkson? Well, anything's possible. Then again, they could become the next Joanna Pacitti. Remember that name? Back in 1996, Little Miss Pacitti won a contest sponsored by Macy's to star as the title orphan in a new tour or Annie. However, she was later fired and replaced by her understudy before the show reached Broadway, resulting in years of bad press and litigation. But that could never happen again, right?

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There were two Broadway openings this week—a big number for a lonely week in August. Both shows were far from the usual fare: Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway, which featured two Downtown performance artists that most Times Square habitués probably thought they'd never see in their neighborhood, and Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me , starring the Tony-winning actor and comic in a faux stage biography of his career. Against all odds, critics preferred Kiki & Herb's send-up of smarmy show-biz antics to Short's send-up of smarmy show-biz antics. Which act audiences prefer remains to be seen.

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels announced that it would close on Sept. 3 after more than 700 performances—roughly the same run as composer David Yazbek's last effort The Full Monty. The show opened to mixed reviews, but critics found they liked it better than they remembered when they returned in early 2006 to review replacement actor Jonathan Pryce. (Reviews for the new national tour, launched in early August, have been raves.)

The closing notice led to wide speculation as to who would be the next inhabitant of the Imperial. Some said the new musical High Fidelity, but no one confirmed officially. There was no more speculation as to who would move into the O'Neill Theatre after Sweeney Todd closed on Sept. 3. Spring Awakening will begin previews on Nov. 17. In other theatre-grabbing news, it was announced that John Doyle's unique take on Company would begin Oct. 30 toward a Nov. 29 opening at the Barrymore.

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Annie Golden will make a rare leading stage appearance and Eartha Kitt will make a rare stage appearance, period, in a new mounting of the musical Mimi Le Duck, the latest product of the New York International Fringe Festival to graduate to a commercial production. The Off-Broadway show will open at New World Stages on Oct. 31. The whimsical show is about Miriam (Golden), a restless Mormon housewife who leaves her husband to find herself in Paris surrounded by—what else?—a wacky array of bohemian sorts.

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The Westport Country Playhouse will produce John Kander and Fred Ebb's Thornton Wilder-inspired musical All About Us during its 2007 season. The show, based on Wilder's play The Skin of Our Teeth, has been knocking about for several years and has a long history. It received its world premiere at the Signature Theatre Company in Arlington, VA, in 1999 as Over and Over. It has since gone through several workshops and title changes. (It was once called, simply, Skin of Our Teeth). Ebb died on Sept. 11, 2004, before seeing the show reach a new stage. Another late-career work of his and Kander's, Curtains, recently received a world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A. It is expected on Broadway this coming season. Ebb would be happy.

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Four-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald is being sought to star in the upcoming New York premiere of the John Adams opera Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera. McDonald is only the latest star of the theatre world that the Met's new general manager Peter Gelb has set his sights on. He recently hired Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth to make her New York opera debut in John Corigliano's opera Ghosts of Versailles, and drafted directors Bartlett Sher, Mary Zimmerman, Richard Eyre, Robert Lepage and Jack O'Brien to direct new opera productions. In addition to that, he has commissioned operas from the likes of John Guare, Adam Guettel, Jeanine Tesori, Tony Kushner and Michael John LaChiusa. At this rate, there won't be anybody left to work in the theatre.

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