PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 10-16: Chita and Charity

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 10-16: Chita and Charity Theatre folks love Chita Rivera. Even critics. They showed as much on Dec. 12, when they bowed down at the glory of her long career, talent, professionalism and general likability. They weren't as impressed with the vehicle through which she chose to communicate those admirable qualities, an autobiographical trip down memory lane penned by Terrence McNally called Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, which some found on the generic side. Despite the critical reaction, producer Marty Bell went on the record that a tour of the show is in the works for 2007.

One of the shows Rivera talks about at the Schoenfeld Theatre is Sweet Charity, the film version of which she appeared in, and a current tenant down the street at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. But not for long. The musical revival announced Dec. 14 that it would celebrate New Year's Eve by taking 2006 off. The show's fate was arguably sealed when a recent attempt by the producers to draft pop star Britney Spears as a replacement for Christina Applegate (she of the foot cast and cast-iron determination), failed. The quixotic casting caper was the final New York chapter in the saga of this star-crossed production, which provided Broadway with more backstage drama than any other 10 shows combined. Nevertheless, producers are exploring the possibility of a tour.

The Wedding Singer will be the new show to pay rent at the Hirschfeld.

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One of the first big Off-Broadway musicals was 1967's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which put the precociously philosophical character of Charles M. Schulz's "Peanut" comic strip on stage. Nearly 40 years later, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and the others are back as angst-ridden slackers who—like the muppets in Avenue Q—grew up to find out life is a lot more complicated than popular culture would have it. The show is called Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead and it opened Off-Broadway on Dec. 15.

Also beginning Off-Broadway Dec. 15 was Beauty of the Father, Nilo Cruz's first New York premiere since the Pulitzer-winning Anna in the Tropics. The Manhattan Theatre Club production stars Ritchie Coster, Oscar Isaac, Priscilla Lopez, Pedro Pascal and Elizabeth Rodriguez. ***

The Broadway musical Movin' Out ended Dec. 11 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Billy Joel—whose music provides the soundtrack for the Twyla Tharp dancefest—made a not altogether surprising surprise visit to the theatre after the final performance, playing a couple of tunes for the audience. Joel's been pretty liberal with these free mini-concerts ever since the hit show opened. By coincidence, tickets to Tharp's next theatre project The Times They Are A-Changin', which uses the music of Bob Dylan, went on sale the same day Movin' Out closed. The show will run at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Jan. 25-March 5. No word yet on if Bob likes surprising audiences.

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Joe Brook's exceedingly peculiar musical In My Life ended its Broadway run on Dec. 11. Now we'll have to find something else to talk about.

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Finally, the film version of The Producers didn't fare any better with critics than did the movie of Rent. Early notices in Variety and AP leaned toward the positive, but on Dec. 16, when the flick was released in selected cities, the frowning appraisals piled up, with most reviewers laying blame at the feet of director Susan Stroman, whose direction was deemed static and stage-bound. Some scribes went out of their way to be cruel. The New York Post's Kyle Smith, the David Spade of movie critics, wrote his pan in verse, to the tune of "Comedy Tonight."

But many others confirmed what theatregoers have long suspected about film critics as a breed: that they are inveterate snobs who still cling to the quaint, early-1970s notion that their art form is superior to all others and regard the theatre with undisguised contempt. New York Times critic A.O. Scott, in fact, made his opinion of the musical theatre clear in no uncertain terms (while inadvertently revealing that he very probably has not been to a stage musical in many, many years). "Once upon a time," he wrote, "musical theatre was the class of American pop culture, a source of democratic delight and artistic ingenuity. Now, many big musicals represent the lowest common denominator: theme park attractions for tourists."

"Theme park attractions for tourists"? The accusation would have held water in the '80s, when Lloyd Webber et al ruled Broadway. But not in a year when audiences can pick from such sophisticated properties as The Light in the Piazza, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Spamalot, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Avenue Q, Hairspray and, yes, The Producers.

As far as "lowest common denominator" goes—surely he doesn't mean lower than the average Hollywood movie. But, wait! He does! His next line is "The movie audience, I suspect, is more discriminating." Now, this is the same audience that, in 2005, made number one box-office hits out of "Monster-in-Law," "Meet the Fockers," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," right? The crowd that right now, as we speak, is lining up for the third celluloid version of a story about a big gorilla that climbs a skyscraper and swats planes?

Yeah, that group is far too discrimating to waste its time on The Producers.