PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 8-14: Harmony for the Holidays

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 8-14: Harmony for the Holidays That sigh of relief you heard at the beginning of the week, on Dec. 9, was not the exhalation of Norbert Leo Butz after unhooking the stays of his bosomy corset in Is He Dead?, which opened at the Lyceum on Sunday.

That "aaaahhh" followed the news that Local One, the Broadway stagehands union, overwhelmingly ratified its new contract with The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc. Let's not dwell on the 19-day strike that temporarily shuttered 27 Broadway shows (Nov. 10-28) when stagehands walked off the job over wage and staffing issues. The good news, union spokesman Bruce Cohen told the cable channel NY1, is that "there won't be any interruption or possible interruption on Broadway through the five-year term of this contract."

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The League stated, "We are pleased that Local One has ratified the contract. We wish everyone a happy holiday. Come and see a show this season!"

The sides did not release details of the new contract.

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It's much more interesting to dwell on the term "bosomy corset," no? As mentioned above, Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz slipped into such a garment in David Ives' free adaptation of a lost Mark Twain play, Is He Dead?, and the drag comedy had critics cheering. No, it's not a museum piece, folks — even though Ives and director Michael Blakemore (and the troupers) have great fun with melodramatic "asides" to the audience. Byron Jennings might as well be twirling a mustache as the craven villain. The rewrite of the 1898 Twain work was substantial, Ives has said. On Dec. 10, the day after the opening, the show's box office had its biggest day yet (no figure was revealed). The work concerns real-life French painter Jean-François Millet's plan (cooked up by his Bohemian pals) to fake his death and make a mint by selling paintings of a dead artist — always sexier than the work of a live one. Millet pretends to be his own grieving sister, the widow Tillou, and looks pretty in pink. Twain was not around the see this world premiere. He died in 1910. ***

Speaking of drag, Charles Busch's delicious turn as fallen pop diva Angela Arden in Die Mommie Die! will fade Jan. 13, 2008, at New World Stages, the producers announced this week. The limited run is ending a month earlier than announced. The comedy-thriller "steeped in the glamour of 1960s Hollywood" has Angela gruesomely murdering her husband with the aid of a poisoned suppository. This is not based on a work by Mark Twain.

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The Public Theater announced this week that David Henry Hwang's new comedy about race and roles, Yellow Face, will get an extra week (to Dec. 30). Leigh Silverman directs the play which spotlights the writer's alter ego, DHH, mixing truth and fiction to tell "his side of the explosive controversy stirred up when he led the protest against the hiring of Jonathan Pryce in the original Broadway production of Miss Saigon."

Yellow Face was originally scheduled to close on Dec. 23.

"We are delighted that David's play has struck a chord with our audience and that we are able to extend its run," stated Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis. "He is one of our most important playwrights, and the Public has been his home for 28 years and will be for the next generation."

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Cindy Williams, perky Shirley Feeney of TV's "Laverne & Shirley," made her Broadway debut Dec. 11 as addled dowager Mrs. Tottendale in The Drowsy Chaperone. The role was created by Georgia Engel, who was succeeded by Jo Anne Worley at the Marquis.

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Liza Minnelli, 61, is doing fine after collapsing on stage Dec. 12 at a Christmas concert in Sweden. She flew back to New York to see her doctor, according to her official website.

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Director-producer Martin Platt and producing partner David Elliott (of Perry Street Theatre) are hoping to bring a forgotten 1925 Gershwin musical, Tell Me More, to life in a revised revival with new book by Jon Marans. An early step toward a wider life was a Dec. 10 piano-and-voice reading directed by Platt and music-directed by Paul Gemignani. Tony Award winner Beth Leavel was among its participants. "Kickin' the Clouds Away" might be the best-known song from that Jazz Age score. Songs from the London run and songs that were cut from the show have been interpolated into the freshened score.

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Elton John and Lee Hall's Billy Elliott the Musical opened to wild cheers in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 13. John and Hall took a bow at the curtain call. Broadway will have to wait until September 2008 for the London smash based on the film about a working class lad who wants to dance ballet.

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

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