Though the show is a commercial venture with hopes of a long life like any other Broadway production, it also can be seen as a sort of tribute to two of its creators, Stone and Ebb, life-long theatre artists who died before they could see it on stage. Another project would have been abandoned after suffering two such unlucky blows, but in the case of Curtains, Rupert Holmes' help was enlisted. Holmes — working on his first new Broadway musical since winning a batch of Tonys for The Mystery of Edwin Drood — wrote a new book based on Stone's original, and both he and Kander pitched in in the Ebb department, writing "additional lyrics." All four men get credit on the title page of the Playbill.
Unlike Kander and Ebb's best-known shows (Cabaret, Chicago), Curtains is an original show not based on existing source material, like a book or a movie. But it's set in a world the team knows well: backstage among the cast and staff of a Broadway-bound musical experiencing trouble out of town. Well, more than trouble, actually. Death and a murder investigation to start. And, on top of that, lousy reviews from the Boston press!
The show features a lot of the players involved in the last new Kander and Ebb show to see Broadway, Steel Pier: director Scott Ellis, actors Debra Monk and Karen Ziemba and musical director David Loud. It will open on March 22.
Meanwhile, it's curtains for the London revival of Evita. The Michael Grandage production, which opened June 21, 2006, will close May 26. Argentine actor-singer Elena Rogers had made a splash in the title role. American Rob Ashford, of the above-mentioned Curtains, did the choreography. ***
Back on Yankee soil, demand to see an English king resulted in a week-long extension of The Public Theater's sold-out production of William Shakespeare's King Lear, starring Kevin Kline. It will now play until March 25. The show will officially open on March 7. Also in the cast are Brian Avers (Edgar), Larry Bryggman (Gloucester), Kristen Bush (Cordelia), Michael Cerveris (Kent), Philip Goodwin (Fool), Laura Odeh (Regan), Daniel Pearce (Cornwall), Michael Rudko (Albany), Logan Marshall-Green (Edmund) and Angela Pierce (Goneril).
Opening Off-Broadway this week was Alfred Molina, starring as talent agent Howard Katz in the American premiere of the Patrick Marber-penned drama. Things ain't pretty in Marberland, and Howard Katz is not an exception. It's a study of a corrosively sour talent agent all but embracing the downward spiral of his life. This guy would get along with Simon Gray's Butley, David Mamet's Edmond and John Osborne's Jimmy Porter like a house on fire. Critics found the character and Molina somewhat fascinating, but thought the play rather one-dimensional and off-putting.
Finally, Jay Harnick, the founder and longtime artistic director of TheatreWorks USA, died this week. It would be hard to find a person who did more to bring theatre to young people — and thus secure a new generation of theatergoers — than Mr. Harnick. He began TheatreWorks USA in 1961 and was its leader for a remarkable 40 years, producing nearly 100 shows and giving early work to the likes of director Jerry Zaks, composers Lynn Ahrens and Steven Flaherty, and actors Roger Bart and Chuck Cooper. Because kid-oriented shows didn't always enthrall the interests of the adult-run media, TheatreWorks productions often played out somewhat under the radar. Chances are, however, that they often had more of a lasting impact on the health of the theatre than did many a headline-grabbing attraction. As the song says, children will listen.