PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 9-15: Not Going Dark

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 9-15: Not Going Dark For months now, few along Broadway believed the beleaguered new musical Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark was going to arrive on The Street for its scheduled first preview of Feb. 25 at the Hilton Theatre, as had been announced. The show had too many production and financial problems to meet that deadline, observers reasoned.
Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming Photo by Francis Hills

The pundits were right. This week Tony Award winner Alan Cumming, who will play the Green Goblin in the new work, told The New York Times at a Jan. 9 TimesTalk event, "No one's going to be there that day. We're just waiting."

The last official announcement about Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark came Nov. 5, 2009, when it was revealed that both new producing partners were on board and Reeve Carney had been announced to play the title role. Following Cumming's new outing of the delay news, producers said on Jan. 12 that Spider-Man "will not begin preview performances on Feb. 25. As announced late last year, the production is moving forward. A revised schedule of preview performances, and an opening date in 2010, will be confirmed shortly. Ticketmaster is contacting ticket holders impacted by the delay. Anyone who has purchased tickets may request a refund from Ticketmaster immediately, or wait for the announcement of the new performance schedule at which time the ability to exchange tickets for new dates will be implemented."

The show features music and lyrics by 22-time Grammy Award winners Bono and The Edge of U2, with direction by Julie Taymor and a book by Taymor and Glen Berger, who have no professional nicknames.

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Broadway shows brought in $1 billion in 2009, announced The Broadway League, the trade association of theatres and producers. Hitting the billion-dollar milestone comes with an asterisk, however.

The showing is partly a result of the way the League now reports earnings: In 2009 the League began reporting "gross gross" rather than the lower "net gross." Net gross reflects the weekly gross with fees or commissions from group sales, pension funds and credit cards subtracted. The "gross gross" report does not show such subtractions, and therefore reflects bigger numbers than in the past.

The net gross in 2008 was $941 million; a 2008 "gross gross" figure was not available. The rounded $1 billion "gross gross" figure of 2009 was released the first week in January; the precise number is $1,001,765,646.

Attendance in 2009 was 11.95 million (a "total attendance" figure which reflects complimentary tickets) compared to 12.32 million (a "paid attendance" number that does not include comps) in 2008. The system of reporting attendance was also changed in 2009.

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Musical minimalism continues apace.

In recent years, we've learned you can stage Sweeney Todd, Ragtime, Sunday in the Park With George and other musicals with far fewer people than was originally the case. In some cases this trend was partly driven by artistic visions. Partly. But economic frugality has always been a larger force behind such productions.

Now, the sprawling musical Camelot has been boiled to its essential drama — the love triangle of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere and Sir Lancelot — in director David Lee's new production that opens Jan. 15 at Pasadena Playhouse. The production has been dubbed Camelittle by some wits. Shannon Stoeke is Arthur, Shannon Warne is Guenevere and Doug Carpenter is Lancelot, leading a cast of just eight performers to inhabit the Lerner & Loewe musical that, in its 1960 Broadway debut, had a cast of 56.

"What Do the Simple Folk Do?" They stay off-stage, that's what they do.

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Back in June 2009, politically conservative playwright Jonathan Reynolds bemoaned to politically conservative theatre columnist Michael Riedel, in the pages of the politically conservative tabloid the New York Post, that no one in New York would produce his politically conservative play Girls in Trouble (Formerly Three Abortions).

"Thus far, its claim to fame is that it's been turned down by all the theaters in New York," Reynolds told the Post. "It was commissioned by the Long Wharf, but they wouldn't put it on. There was a theatre in the suburbs of Washington, DC, that said they wanted to present the 'other side' of the abortion debate. But when they read it, they said it would 'infuriate our audience.' ... I think the pro-life side has something to say. But I don't think theatre people want to hear it."

Well, not all theatre people. The Flea Theater will present the world premiere of Girls in Trouble (which seems to have lost its parentheses on the trip downtown) at the company's Tribeca home, deep in the heart of Manhattan liberalism. Flea artistic director Jim Simpson — who's also directed the works of politically liberal playwright A.R. Gurney — will pilot the new play slated to begin previews Feb. 12 and open Feb. 28 for a run scheduled through March 15.

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Billy Elliot's Trent Kowalik and Stephen Hanna
photo by Carol Rosegg

The ten-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Billy Elliot has been around so long and praised so much, I thought the Elton John-Lee Hall musical has recouped its $18 million investment long ago. But no. It only just happened. Well done, boys. The national tour of Billy Elliot is set to launch an extended run in Chicago beginning March 18 at the Oriental Theatre. A second national tour will begin in November.

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Finally, director Edward Hall is following in the footsteps of his dad, Peter — he's becoming an artistic director.

Edward Hall was appointed as artistic director and chief executive of London's Hampstead Theatre, succeeding Anthony Clark from the end of January. Hall is expected to announce his inaugural season later this spring or in the early summer to open in the fall.

Sir Peter Hall, of course, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and was artistic director of the National Theatre. Son Ed is also founder and artistic director of Propeller, an all-male Shakespeare company.

Family business.

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