PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 19-25: One Mack, Cumming Up!

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 19-25: One Mack, Cumming Up! A dark, louche musical requiring a leering lead with slightly scummy charisma? Get me Alan Cumming on the line!
Alan Cumming (right), with Stephen Spinella
Alan Cumming (right), with Stephen Spinella Photo by Aubrey Reuben

So, perhaps (perhaps, I said!) went the thought processes over at the Roundabout Theatre Company's casting office when it offered Cabaret Tony-winner Cumming the role of roguish Macheath in its upcoming, high-profile revival of The Threepenny Opera, adapted by Wallace Shawn and directed by Scott Elliott. But three cheers for the Roundabout and Elliott, however they came up with the idea, for thus saving the perfume world from Cumming's advances (his scent, "Cumming," was recently released) and saving Cumming from his career-eroding addiction to third leads in cartoonish films ("Son of the Mask," "Spy Kids," "X-Men," and the one that started it all, "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas," in which he played Gazoo).

For all his branching out, the theatre still appears to be Cumming's strong suit, the place where his odd light shines brightest, and the precinct where he's still considered a star. He will be backed up in Opera by Eddie Falco and quirky pop star Nellie McKay. The show will open at Broadway's Studio 54 next season.

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Dallas Roberts' day in the Shepard family sun set on Feb. 21, when it was announced that he had left the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, which stars Jessica Lange. Roberts did just fine with Jessica's paramour, Sam Shepard, in the Off-Broadway production of A Number. That show hadn't closed yet when the young actor was offered the part of Tom Wingfield. What caused his swift exit the seers of Broadway are still trying to divine. But whatever it was, it must have seemed urgent to the Menagerie team, for new Tom Christian Slater was brought in less than a week before the first scheduled preview (Feb. 24) at the Barrymore. This put David Leveaux's staging in the unique position of starting performances with a lead it has no intention using at opening. But take heart, Joey Collins: you may not get the reviews, but you'll have a heck of an interesting asterisk next to your name in the theatre history books.

*** Off-Broadway opened 'em steadily this week: Stephen Belber's McReele at the Roundabout; Christopher Shinn's On the Mountain at Playwrights Horizons; and Endgame, with Tony Roberts, at Irish Repertory Theatre. All received mixed-to-respectable marks from the critics. But the critical hit of the week by far was the long-running, globe-trotting Shockheaded Peter, which may be on its way to becoming the Little Shubert's first solid hit. The embrace of the darkly comic Victorian haunted house of misbehaving children is somewhat unexpected, given that the show played a short run at the New Victory in 2000. Critics rarely fuss over a production the second time around. But, once a good show, always a good show, I guess.

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If Hollywood stars can't find a Neil LaBute play to act in New York, they go to London. David Schwimmer, lately of "Friends," will be in the world premiere of LaBute’s new play Some Girls. Schwimmer, who co-founded Chicago’s Looking Glass Theatre Company, will play a man who decides to visit four ex-girlfriends before agreeing to become engaged. The show will run at the Gielgud Theatre from May 12 until August 13. Meanwhile, This Is How It Goes, the LaBute play that will star Ben Stiller in its spring New York version, will debut at London's Donmar Warehouse beginning May 31.

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In other news of the Thames, the increasingly weird controversy over Jerry Springer—The Opera—which closed on Feb. 19—clamors on. The word that proceeds from a special charity performance of the show would aid cancer charity The Maggie’s Center drew the protests of a religious activist group called Christian Voice. Opponents of the show have objected to the depiction of Jesus, God and other biblical characters. But it was the BBC television broadcast that sparked a record numbers of complaints and threats of “bloodshed” against some BBC executives. According to The Scotsman newspaper, the outfit told Maggie's Center that its accepting the dough would amount to profiting from "filth and blasphemy." Well, the Voice is apparently a loud one. Maggie's Center took the money that would have gone to cancer research, all 3,000 pounds of it, and gave it back to the producers of the musical. OK, wait—who won that battle again? God or the Devil?

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Finally, John Raitt died on Feb. 20 at the age of 88. Raitt, a towering, manly, big-voiced baritone, was one of the last of the old style Broadway musical stars, and one that never lost his love of singing and theatre. His fame boiled down to two famous roles: Billy Bigelow in Carousel and Sid Sorokin in The Pajama Game. Broadway provided him with few other suitable jobs, so Raitt headed for summer stock, where he performed nearly non-stop for three decades. The theatre may not have served Raitt as well as it could have, but Raitt served the theatre to the utmost.

Peter Foy also passed away, on Feb. 17. He was not a household name like Raitt, but everyone in the theatre industry knew his company Flying By Foy, a one-of-a-kind enterprise which possessed the equipment and skill to send stage Peter Pans from Jean Arthur to Mary Martin to Sandy Duncan to Cathy Rigby soaring toward the rafters. Foy's fate seemed sealed at an early age. As a 15-year-old British boy, he flew "on a slim steel wire" while playing a Sea Witch in a production of Where The Rainbow Ends. When the show’s stage manager was hospitalized, he also assumed those duties, supervising the Kirby's Flying Machines—the very ones he would later employ in his first Broadway Peter Pan.