PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 18-24: High School Musical, Real Musical

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 18-24: High School Musical, Real Musical The most widely seen musical in the country this month was not on any stage.
Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens star in
Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens star in "High School Musical 2." Photo by Disney Channel

Disney must have had high hopes for its television movie "High School Musical 2," the sequel to its madly popular "High School Musical." But even the head office at Mickey Central must have been bowled over by the 17.2 million viewers that caught the movie's Aug. 17 television premiere on the Disney Channel.

That number was more than double the ratings of the original TV musical from 2006 ("High School Musical" had 7.7 million viewers). And when you post numbers like that, the records come a-tumblin' down. According to Disney, "High School Musical 2" is the most-watched basic cable telecast of all time in total viewers. The eyes glued to the set Aug. 17 belonged mainly to six though 14-year-olds.

In recent decades, school systems have cut back on their arts programs severely. Who wants to bet that, after this, high schools start doing real high school musicals a lot more?

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With all the euphoria in the air at Disney headquarters, it may have been hard for them to concentrate on the other big corporate event of this week: The Aug. 23 official opening of the newest Disney Theatrical Productions musical, The Little Mermaid at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver. The pre-Broadway engagement began its Colorado run July 26. Directed by Francesca Zambello, the new musical is Disney's first big effort since Tarzan, which fared disappointingly on Broadway. The reviews out at press time, from the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, had good things to say, while indicating more work needs to be done. Critic Lisa Bornstein liked stars Sierra Boggess as the title character, Ariel, and Sherie Rene Scott as evil Ursula in a work in progress that has "moments of glimmering magic." The Post was slightly more positive. "The waterless staging conceit is original and magical in execution," wrote John Moore. He, too, loved Boggess and Scott, while saying the on-land scenes needed improvement. And both critics like Seagull Eddie Korbich and his new number "Positoovity."

The review also gave the curious some clues as to how Zambello's production looks. There's apparently an orange fiberglass ship, sea creatures glide on Heelys, translucent plastics abound and the mermaids have tails strapped to their behinds.

Young Frankenstein, the new Mel Brooks musical, chose to open in Seattle the exact same night at Mermaid, Aug. 23.

The Seattle Times review was largely sunny, but it warned that the show was still struggling to get out from under the shadow of the famous film that inspired it. The musical is best, the review said, when it takes on a life of its own.

So it sound like, if you're a member of the Mermaid and Frankenstein crews, you'll be doing some work over the next few weeks. But, hey, that's what tryouts are for.

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In his recent positive review of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of Tracy Letts' sprawling new play August: Osage County,, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood said he expected some New York producer would move the play to Broadway before long. Well, of course they will, Chuck, if you say it's going to happen in a Times review!

Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler and Jerry Frankel are the ones who answered Isherwood's instructions. They will bring the Letts play to Broadway for a limited 16-week run that will begin at Broadway's Imperial Theatre Oct. 30 toward a Nov. 20 opening. Letts has been acclaimed for his gritty Off-Broadway plays Killer Joe and Bug. This will be his Broadway debut.

Most of the Chicago cast of the large family drama, which has been compared to O'Neill and Albee, will make the trip. And that's one good cast! Among the members: Francis Guinan, Mariann Mayberry, Amy Morton, Sally Murphy, Jeff Perry, Rondi Reed, Rick Snyder and Deanna Dunagan. Not Broadway stars, maybe, but legends in Chicago theatre.

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In other Broadway news, you remember those rumors about Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner starring in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac this fall? Well, they're true. A limited 10-week engagement of the 1897 French drama about the ugly, large-nosed soldier-poet starts Oct. 12 toward a Nov. 1 opening at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

The cast of <i>August: Osage County</i> at Chicago's Steppenwolf.
The cast of August: Osage County at Chicago's Steppenwolf. Photo by Michael Brosilow