PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 15-21: "Sweeney Todd" and Two Gypsys

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 15-21: "Sweeney Todd" and Two Gypsys A screen version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opens in theatres around the country Dec. 21. It took only 28 years for the bloody tale of revenge to make the leap from stage to screen.

The irreplaceable Patti LuPone in Gypsy.
The irreplaceable Patti LuPone in Gypsy. Photo by Joan Marcus

Time will tell if the bloody musical will be a hit with audiences. One thing is for sure: Director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp (in the title role) have millions of fans, and many of them will be hearing a Sondheim song for the first time. That's a good thing. Sondheim's advice to fans of the show: Let go of your notions of the stage show and you will have a ball. This is Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd" rather than Sondheim and Wheeler's. That said, a great deal of the score remains intact, despite internal cuts and a couple of wholesale chops. The dialogue is as spare in the film as it is in the stage version (twice revived on Broadway since 1979), with one new "book scene" added in Judge Turpin's home.

John Logan ("The Aviator," "Gladiator," Never the Sinner) penned the DreamWorks/Warner Bros. film's screenplay. The production team includes Tony Award winners Jonathan Tunick (orchestrator) and Paul Gemignani (musical supervisor).

Among the fresh surprises: Johanna and Anthony appear to be teenagers, and Toby looks to be about 10 years old.

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Also this week came word that another Sondheim musical may be headed for the silver screen. The New York Times reported that a film version of Follies, the Sondheim musical that features a book by James Goldman, is currently in development. Attached to the project are Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes and Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin, who is currently represented on Broadway with The Farnsworth Invention. Neither casting nor a time table for the film has been announced, although Sondheim told the Times he would be willing to allow his score to be altered for a film. Sondheim also suggested that Company would make the stage-to-screen leap well. *

How about news of another Sondheim show?: Gypsy, namely, written with Jule Styne and Arthur Laurents. Producers confirmed this week that the Laurents-directed revival that was such a sensation last summer as an "Encores! Summer Stars" presentation will play Broadway's St. James starting March 3, 2008, toward a March 27 opening.

It again will star Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone as stage mother/monster Rose, and holdovers Laura Benanti as Louise and Boyd Gaines as Herbie. Additional casting will be announced shortly.

Gypsy will be produced on Broadway by Roger Berlind, The Routh - Frankel - Baruch - Viertel Group, Roy Furman, Debra Black, Ted Hartley, Roger Horchow, David Ian, Scott Rudin and Jack Viertel.

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Here's news of another Gypsy. At the 2007 Gypsy of the Year fundraiser Dec. 17-18, The Color Purple won an award for best skit, and the national tour of Jersey Boys raised the most money for a single show. The 19th annual Gypsy of the Year Competition played the New Amsterdam Theatre. Broadway's generosity was the real star, with a last-minute outpouring of checks pushing the total to a new record — $3,927,110, despite the 19-day stagehands strike that virtually blacked out the peak of the charity's fundraising season.

The theme of the event was the 50th anniversary of the musical West Side Story. More than two-dozen original cast members were on hand, including Carol Lawrence, the original Maria; and Chita Rivera, the original Anita, who were received with standing ovations.

Collected by more than 70 Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows over eight weeks in nightly curtain-call appeals — extended two weeks this year after the strike — the total far outdistanced 2003's previous record total of $3,359,000 and bested 2006's total of $2,992,800 by nearly a million dollars.

The 2007 Gypsy of the Year Competition was hosted by Bob Saget of The Drowsy Chaperone (whose remarks were off-color, to say the least) and Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman of Xanadu.

As is custom, the two performances featured a mix of satirical skits, inspirational songs and virtuoso dance numbers, all performed by Broadway troupers.

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Don't have enough Sondheim news? In a note in the Playbill for the annual Gypsy of the Year Competition, Arthur Laurents wrote, "I'm sorry I can't be with you all today. Unfortunately, I have a meeting and it's too late to change. I think everyone will be the winner and if you want a message from me, it's this: I will be directing a production of West Side Story for Broadway next year that will be radically different from any production ever done and contemporary to boot. How? Come see the show. There — that's a tease that should sell a few tickets. Meantime, see Gypsy at the St. James beginning in March. Shameless but why not?"

West Side Story has lyrics by Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein and book by Laurents.

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This week, The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., recently the "management" side in the dispute with the Broadway stagehands union, announced a name change. Effective immediately, the national trade association for the Broadway industry will be known as The Broadway League.

The new title "more aptly reflects the composition of the League's membership," according to a Dec. 18 statement.

The League's national membership is "not limited to theatre owners and producers, but includes Broadway presenters, general managers and other Broadway industry professionals."

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Nathan Lane returned to Broadway Nov. 20 for the world premiere of David Mamet's November. The comedy at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre also features Laurie Metcalf and Dylan Baker. Joe Mantello (Wicked, Take Me Out, Glengarry Glen Ross) directs the production, which will officially open Jan. 17, 2008.

"Set just days before a major presidential election," according to producers, "November involves civil marriages, gambling casinos, lesbians, American Indians, presidential libraries, questionable pardons and campaign contributions."

"It's about the President of the United States who is about to get voted out of office," playwright Mamet told Playbill.com following the company's first read-through. "He's got one week left in office. He's going to lose the election, and his approval rating is in the single digits."

 

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Producers of Off-Broadway's Make Me a Song, the acclaimed revue of William Finn songs, announced this week that the show (with four actor-singers and a piano) will play its final performance at New World Stages Dec. 30. When it closes, the production will have played 14 previews and 55 regular performances.

Lincoln Center videotaped the show for posterity, and, as previously announced, Ghostlight Records recorded the show's cast album Dec. 1 and 2.

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Marc Kudisch had an onstage mishap during the Dec. 16 performance of The Glorious Ones, necessitating the star's exit from the performance at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi Newhouse Theater. A spokesman confirmed what had been reported by theatregoers on internet message boards: In a scene with Natalie Venetia Belcon, Kudisch was hit in the eye. His understudy, Neal Benari, took over for him mid-way during the matinee performance.

The scratched cornea has kept the actor sidelined all week, but there is hope, he said, that he will return for performances this weekend.

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John Gallagher, Jr. — the young actor who earned a Tony Award for his performance as the ill-fated Moritz in Spring Awakening — played his final performance in that Tony-winning musical Dec. 16. The singing actor has been with Spring Awakening since its final workshop at Lincoln Center, which preceded the show's Off-Broadway world premiere at the Atlantic Theatre Company in June 2006 and the subsequent Broadway transfer.

"Lost" and "One Tree Hill" star Blake Bashoff succeeded Gallagher in the role of Moritz beginning Dec. 18. Also joining the Spring Awakening company this week: three-time Tony nominee Kate Burton, who will succeed Christine Estabrook in the Adult Women roles Dec. 21.

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A revival of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming — starring Ian McShane, Raúl Esparza and Eve Best — opened at Broadway's Cort Theatre Dec. 16. Previews, which were delayed due to the recent stagehands strike, began Dec. 4. The production was originally scheduled to begin performances Nov. 23.

Critics embraced the new staging, directed by Daniel Sullivan. The company comprises McShane, Esparza, Best, Michael McKean, James Frain and Gareth Saxe.

Set in North London, The Homecoming "concerns the ultimate dysfunctional family, presided over by its patriarch Max (McShane). Living under his dilapidated roof are his younger brother Sam (McKean), and two of his sons: Lenny (Esparza), the town pimp, and Joey (Saxe), a boxer-in-training. Tensions begin to flair with the arrival of Max's eldest son Teddy (Frain), who returns home after six years with his new wife Ruth (Best). Seduction, betrayal, and divisiveness ensue, as the family welcomes the homecoming of its estranged brother and vies for the attention of his dangerously alluring wife."

The Homecoming made its Broadway debut in January 1967 at the Music Box Theatre. The production won four 1967 Tonys: Best Play, Best Direction of a Play (Peter Hall), Best Actor in a Play (Paul Rogers) and Best Featured Actor in a Play (Ian Holm). A revival was seen in 1991 at the Criterion Center Stage Right.

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Producer Tom Smedes is circling around the popular, regionally produced musical Ace in the hope of bringing it in for a Broadway landing. Toward that end, he presented a starry New York City reading of the show's latest draft Dec. 17. Billed as "a new musical adventure," Ace has book and lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker and music by Oberacker.

Eric Schaeffer (Arlington's Signature Theatre, Broadway's Putting It Together, London's The Witches of Eastwick) directed the staged reading, which featured Will Chase (High Fidelity, Aida, The Full Monty) in the title role, with Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins) as the mom of a little boy (played by Noah Galvin) with big dreams. Christiane Noll (Jekyll & Hyde, Frankenstein) was also in the mix.

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Producers of the five-time Tony Award-winning musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone announced this week that the show will close Dec. 30 at the Marquis Theatre following 674 performances and 32 previews. The show recouped its investment. A well-reviewed national tour continues. A cast album preserves the score.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Contact him at kjones@playbill.com.)