PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 26-March 4: Connick in Clear Day; Lloyd Webber in Oz; Good People Is Great

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 26-March 4: Connick in Clear Day; Lloyd Webber in Oz; Good People Is Great
 
Harry Connick, Jr., who scored a hit with his Broadway debut performance in The Pajama Game, is finally returning to Broadway, and the project is a far riskier venture this time around.

Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr.

Connick will star in the much-talked-about Michael Mayer-Peter Parnell revisal of the the curious Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. The show was once aimed for Off-Broadway (specifically the Vineyard Theatre), but has now been bumped to Broadway, thanks to marquee-name Connick. It will open in fall 2011.

The score has always been praised above the difficult, and rather kooky, libretto, with its themes of psychiatry, hypnosis and past lives. Even so, it will be enhanced by songs from Lane & Lerner's film scorefor On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and the film "Royal Wedding." (Will there be dancing on the ceiling?) The new libretto, which Mayer has been coy about revealing, is based on the original book by Lerner. The creators claim to have "fixed" the musical in this interpretation. (A gay relationship has been woven into the fabric of the show.) There is a gay relationship That may be. But with the casting of Connick, they certainly have fixed the problem of how they will get people to buy tickets.

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David Lindsay-Abaire's new drama Good People opened at Manhattan Theatre Club on March 3, and, if the reviews are any measure, by March 4 the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Rabbit Hole had another hit on his hands.

Critics praised the play — which examines whether character or lucky breaks or a combination of both make up one's fate — calling it a fine piece of work, tough and tender, subtly directed by Dan Sullivan and expertly acted by the unaffected Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan, among others. Lindsay-Abaire is doing quite well by this unexpected second act in his career, in which he seems to have traded in the willful whimsy of early, absurdist-influenced works like Fuddy Meers for a confident, almost old-fashioned naturalism. The play had already extended a couple weeks before opening. These reviews should mean another extension or, who knows, maybe a Time Stands Still-style intra-Broadway transfer.

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Christopher Sieber
photo by Joan Marcus

Because the Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles needed an actor, and quick, the Broadway revival of Chicago lost an actor, and quick.

Christopher Sieber, who had been scheduled to play a brief engagement in the Broadway production of Chicago, will instead step into the role of Georges in the Tony Award-winning revival of La Cage aux Folles at the Longacre Theatre. His debut date will be announced at a later time. The actor succeeded Jeffrey Tambor, who suddenly withdrew from the production after a few performances. (Complications from recent hip surgery was given as an official reason, though tabloid reports commented on Tambor's uneasiness on stage.)

Owing to Sieber's sudden new employment, Jeff McCarthy was brought in to play Billy Flynn in Chicago, March 8-25. And, so, everyone's happy. Even the talented Chris Hoch, the understudy for Georges, who has played Georges opposite Harvey Fierstein since the Feb. 25 performance, and got his name in the papers because of the whole mess.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage production of The Wizard of Oz — based on the immortal story by L. Frank Baum and made more famous in the 1939 M-G-M film musical, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg — opened at the London Palladium March 1, following previews from Feb. 7. For the show, Lloyd Webber reunited with his former writing partner Tim Rice to write four additional songs to supplement the original score. (Imagine having to write songs that must measure up to the standard of "Over the Rainbow"!)

The musical, directed by Jeremy Sams, has as its Dorothy Danielle Hope, a young actress chosen by public vote on a reality TV casting show — which, as is widely known, is the best way to cast stage shows. Also starring is the legendary, but seldom-seen, Michael Crawford, who (rather aptly) plays the title role of The Wizard. Think, The Phantom of Oz.

Critics concluded that if you liked the film, you would probably like the stage musical. They called it sumptuously showy, scenic, old-fashioned and probably critic-proof, if somewhat soulless. And they found Hope fine, competent and charming, but rather dwarfed by the design effects.

Playbill.com's London correspondent Mark Shenton snagged an interview with Lloyd Webber this week.

 

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Though Frank Rich — the New York Times opinion columnist who spent 14 years as the chief theatre critic for that newspaper — stopped writing about theatre in 1993, a goodly portion of the theatre community continues to regard him as the paper's preeminent theatre journalist. (This perception is rather quaint, since the vast majority of the American population regards Rich as a major political voice. Many of his younger readers probably don't even know he used to write about theatre.)

And so, when it was announced this week that Rich, 61, was leaving the Grey Lady after 31 years to join the staff of New York magazine, theatre fans called it the end of an era. I guess it is, in a way. One can't help but wonder how this news was greeted by Scott Brown, the mag's recently ordained main theatre critic. It's hard enough to make a name for yourself while dwelling in the long shadow of John Simon, who for decades was New York magazine's stately theatre critic. Who needs Rich to come around and blot out the last rays of light?

Estelle Parsons, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Tate Donovan, Frances McDormand, Becky Ann Baker and Patrick Carroll
Estelle Parsons, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Tate Donovan, Frances McDormand, Becky Ann Baker and Patrick Carroll
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