PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 22-28: The Last Week of the Year

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 22-28: The Last Week of the Year
 
Classic Stage Company, the Off-Broadway troupe devoted to staging "classic" works — and not afraid to bend that definition when they choose — ends 2007 with some star power Dec. 28 with the first preview of New Jerusalem, a world premiere by David Ives, whose current Broadway adaptation of Mark Twain's Is He Dead?, critics insist, is not a museum piece but a zingy, contemporary laugh riot.
Richard Easton
Richard Easton Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Ives' new work sounds like it may have fewer laughs: It's about 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza's clash with the Jewish community over his controversial ideas. Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie directs a company that includes Tony Award winner Richard Easton, plus Fyvush Finkel, David Garrison, Jenn Harris, Michael Izquierdo, Natalia Payne and Jeremy Strong (as Spinoza). The play is presented by special arrangement with commercial producer Robert Boyett, who helped bring Is He Dead? back to life.

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Michael Kidd, the actor, dancer, director and choreographer known for creating strutting, athletic and utterly masculine choreography for such musicals as Li'l Abner, Guys and Dolls and Wildcat died Dec. 23 at his Los Angeles home. He was 92.

Kidd won five Tony Awards as well as an Honorary Academy Award for his choreographic talents on Broadway and on screen. Many remember his muscular performance as one of three veterans struggling with post-war life in the movie musical "It's Always Fair Weather."

For choreographing the original Finian's Rainbow, he won a 1947 Tony Award, tying with Agnes de Mille (Brigadoon). He would go on to win four other Tony Awards — for his choreography for Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Li'l Abner (which he also directed) and Destry Rides Again (which he also directed). The Goodbye Girl was Kidd's final directorial credit on Broadway. He staged dances and musical numbers for the films "The Band Wagon," "Guys and Dolls," "Li'l Abner," "Star!" and "Movie Movie" and choreographed "Where's Charley?," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Merry Andrew" and "Hello, Dolly!"

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Ruth Wallis, the so-called Queen of the Party Songs, known for her bawdy and naughty songs about sex, died Dec. 22 at age 87. Her songs are tame by today's standards, but they had enough salty-sweet retro charm to inspire a revue that played Manhattan in 2003 (and other markets subsequently) — Boobs! The Musical, which was subtitled The World According to Ruth Wallis. A cast album exists, offering Wallis' signature number, "The Dinghy Song."

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The cast album of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein was released Dec. 26 on the Decca Broadway label. It includes an overture written specifically for the album, and a bonus track — a song called "Alone," written for Megan Mullally's character but cut prior to Broadway.

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During its first five days in release, the new Tim Burton film "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" — based on the stage classic by Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim — brought in $12.75 million, according to Boxofficemojo.com. It opened Dec. 21. It was the No. 5 earner at the box office Dec. 21-25, competing with "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," which took in $65 million, "I Am Legend" ($47.5 million) and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" ($32.8 million) — along with the debut of Aaron Sorkin and Mike Nichols' "Charlie Wilson's War" ($14.75 million).

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The previously reported casting of Tony Award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde in Candide for English National Opera was confirmed this week. The star of TV's "Pushing Daisies" will play the lustrous role in Leonard Bernstein's musical for ENO at the London Coliseum beginning June 23, 2008. She will sing 13 performances.

The former Wicked star, who has previously sung the role of Cunegonde in a New York Philharmonic production of Candide, will play opposite British tenor Toby Spence in the title role.

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On Dec. 27 the pop trio GrooveLily brought their New Year's Eve-set musical, Striking 12, back to Manhattan, for four performances through Dec. 31 at the funky midtown venue, The Zipper Factory. The cult hit, heard on a cast album, has been further refined by writers Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda for this engagement. Indeed, the unique musical inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Match Girl" is now available for licensing as a three-person concert/show version and as a large-cast legit musical.

Why not see it performed by the troupers who created it? Critics who have embraced the show say it will broaden your definition of musical theatre, it will make you laugh — and it may touch your heart.

Happy New Year.

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

Valerie Vigoda, Gene Lewin and Brendan Milburn in <i>Striking 12</i>.
Valerie Vigoda, Gene Lewin and Brendan Milburn in Striking 12. Photo by Joan Marcus
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