This, after all, wasn't supposed to happen, was it? Another movie-turned-musical? Haven't we done that a little too much lately? Haven't we had a few too many Wedding Singers and High Fidelitys? But critics left the Golden Gate Theatre all grins and just couldn't stop their pens from dancing across the page. "Bad news?" asked Variety, in the old good-news-bad-news gambit. "Actually, there is none."
This is good news indeed for Jerry Mitchell, tackling his first Broadway show as director and choreographer; and even better news for Laura Bell Bundy in her debut star outing; and better news yet for relatively unknown composers Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and completely unknown librettist Heather Hach, who will all be making their Broadway bows. Guess you just gotta love a show that opens with a number called "OmiGod You Guys!"
Abraham gave birth to the Jewish people this week. That's F. Murray Abraham, the actor. And, actually, he created only two fictional Jews, but they're two of the three most famous (notorious) Chosen People in dramatic literature: Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Barabas in The Jew of Malta. (The third, FYI, is Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. And he's not so notorious; more cuddly.)
The two plays have been playing in rep since Jan. 6. There are few actors of Abraham's age and fame who are willing to take on such a daunting task. Proof of his dedication to the project lied in the fact that during the weeks of rehearsal, a media blackout was in effect—that is to say, no reporter was let within 100 yards of the thesp as he committed the twin Elizabethan texts to memory. It was the presence of the Marlowe play, of course, that lent the undertaking interest. Merchant is mounted at least a couple times a year somewhere in the city; but copies of Malta are cracked only in classrooms these days, and though many know the title, few know the play. Thus, the Theatre for a New Audience provided audiences (and a number of critics) with their first chance to see the play on its feet. These viewers could also decide for themselves how true the contention is that the Marlowe play influenced Shakespeare's more lasting work. (Very true, as it turned out.)
The plays opened together on Monday, Feb. 5, and the news was half good. The reception of Darko Tresnjak's modern-dress-with-powerbooks Merchant was largely heralded as masterly, complex, subtle and stirring, with Abraham working at his full powers. Malta was faulted for David Herskovits's jokey, surface-oriented direction, though Abraham again earned plaudits. Still, I would advise people truly interested in the classical canon to see the production. It's not as if the Roundabout's going to do it next season.
Meanwhile, in a completely different theatrical galaxy far, far away, David Hasselhoff made his crossdressing debut in the abbreviated version of The Producers in Las Vegas. Feb. 9 marked the official opening of the "Baywatch" star's interpretation of super-swish director Roger DeBris. For security purposes, producers have surrounded the German pop star with veterans of the Mel Brooks musical, including Brad Oscar at Max.
Due west, the La Jolla Playhouse (yes, we are getting around a bit in this column) has nabbed the musicals Cry-Baby and Most Wanted for its upcoming season. Cry-Baby is the John Waters film producers turned to after Hairspray proved such a hit. It has a book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, lyrics and music by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger. Cry-Baby was previously scheduled for February-March 2007 at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre but was delayed because there was no available Broadway house for a transfer. Fall is the time for the La Jolla production.
Most Wanted, meanwhile, is composer Mark Bennett, librettist-lyricist Jessica Hagedorn and director Michael Greif's workshop production of a musical that focuses on (steel your stomach now) "America's obsession with the cult of wealth and celebrity through the lens of the media frenzy surrounding Andrew Cunanan," killer of legendary fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was found dead in a Florida houseboat.
Finally, the news on the Rialto. Boyd Gaines, Jefferson Mays, Hugh Dancy and Stark Sands began performances in Journey's End, the Broadway revival of R.C. Sherriff's 1929 war play, at the Belasco Theatre Feb. 8. The producers of David Hare's The Vertical Hour, which marked the Broadway debuts of film actress Julianne Moore and British actor Bill Nighy, announced it would end its limited engagement early, on March 11. And, as expected, the late August Wilson's Radio Golf will inhabit the Cort Theatre on Broadway. It will star Harry Lennix and Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins, which was less expected.