PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 21-27: Belle Tolls; Ariel Surfaces

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 21-27: Belle Tolls; Ariel Surfaces It was a week of beginnings and endings for Disney.
Steve Blanchard and Anneliese Van Der Pol
Steve Blanchard and Anneliese Van Der Pol Photo by George Holz

On July 26, the entertainment monolith's latest Broadway-bound effort, a staged version of the animated film The Little Mermaid, began previews at Denver's Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The work is directed by Francesca Zambello, an artist best known for her work in opera who will make her Broadway debut with this show. Newcomer Sierra Boggess plays the title role. The best known name in the cast is Disney alum Sherie Rene Scott (Aida), who has a plum role in the sea witch Ursula. But the show's golden commodity is its score, by composer Alan Menken, the late lyricist Howard Ashman and new lyricist Glenn Slater. The book, meanwhile, is by Doug (I Am My Own Wife, Grey Gardens) Wright, possibly the most un-Disney Disney employee ever.

After its Denver run ends Sept. 9, Mermaid will arrive at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. That theatre is currently the home of Beauty and the Beast, another Menken-Ashman show, which is clearing out for good July 29 to make room for its flippered friend.

Beauty was Disney's first Broadway show. It has been on The Street since 1994, when Clinton and Giuliani were in their first terms and an apartment in Brooklyn could be rented for $500. It was never a darling of the critics, but audiences loved it and it outlasted every other Disney effort save The Lion King, which will probably one day best Beauty's run of 46 previews and 5,464 regular performances, first at the Palace, then at the Lunt-Fontanne.

Beasts have included just about every broad-shouldered, tall actor in the Broadway community: Terrence Mann, James Barbour, Jeff McCarthy and Steve Blanchard, among them. Belles have included some up-and-comers — Kerry Butler — and some Broadway stalwarts — Andrea McArdle, Deborah Gibson — as well as the original, Susan Egan. But, what I really wanna know is: are any of the kids who played Chip still in the business?

*** Arthur Laurents, the playwright, librettist, and director who, at 90, needs no help from anybody crossing the street, unveiled to the New York Post in a typically feisty interview (Sam Mendes is not taking calls today) that he may direct a new Broadway production of West Side Story, for which he wrote the book some 50 years ago.

Laurents told the New York daily, "There was a revival in the 1970s that was no good. It was too white-bread. I've come up with a way of doing it that will make it absolutely contemporary without changing a word or a note. And what will annoy you is that I'm not going to tell you what it is."

When the much-sought-after property was last heralded as Broadway-bound, Jerry Mitchell was reported as its director-choreographer.

In other Broadway news, In the Heights nabbed itself a nice home for its Broadway debut: the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Previews for the hip-hop and salsa-spiked musical comedy will begin Feb. 14, 2008, toward a March 9 opening.

Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention, which debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse in February, will arrive at Broadway's Music Box Theatre Oct. 15 with an official opening scheduled for Nov. 14. Directed by Des McAnuff, who helmed the California run, the new work about the invention of television will co-star Tony Award nominee Hank Azaria as David Sarnoff and Jimmi Simpson as Philo T. Farnsworth.

And Raul Esparza will join the previously announced Ian McShane for the Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming. Michael McKean will also be part of the cast. Daniel Sullivan will direct the Pinter revival, which is scheduled to begin previews at the Cort Theatre Nov. 16 with an official opening scheduled for Dec 4.

***

Following its very successful 2007 season, the City Center Encores! series has announced its 15th anniversary line-up. Rosie O'Donnell, who never quite leaves the theatre world entirely, and Tony Award winners Christine Ebersole and Beth Leavel, will be part of a roster that includes Applause, Juno and No, No, Nanette.

If you haven't already figured out that that means Ebersole will play Margo Channing in the "All About Eve"-inspired Applause, then your theatre geek radar is on the fritz. O'Donnell, meanwhile, will play the wisecracking maid Pauline in Nanette, which is about the smartest bit of casting I've yet heard of for this particular talent. As the show's director Walter Bobbie told the New York Times, "I think that's the way America wants to see Rosie."

***

So, what does a season at Manhattan Theatre Club look like without Lynne Meadow, who is on sabbatical, at the helm? Well, something like this:

The huge nonprofit, which is being guided by Daniel Sullivan during Meadow's absence, announced this week that Josh Charles, Robert Foxworth and Kendra Kassebaum have joined the previously announced Jayne Houdyshell for the world premiere of Adam Bock's The Receptionist this fall at New York City Center Stage I. Also revealed is that Itamar Moses' The Four of Us will be the final production of the season.

The rest of the season includes: at the Biltmore, Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck, and a revival of Top Girls by Caryl Churchill; and, at City Center, Pumpgirl by Abbie Spallen; and Kenneth Lonergan's The Starry Messenger.

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Finally, after 32 years in business, the downtown company Soho Rep has decided to take a step up. The multiple Obie Award-winning, Off-Off-Broadway theatre company will officially become an Off-Broadway company this coming season. The troupe, which has routinely won critical raves for its work, but has yearly struggled with budgetary restraints, will expand its mainstage season from two to three productions for the 2007-2008 calendar year, the first season under the new artistic direction of Sarah Benson. The productions scheduled for the Soho Rep season include the New York premiere of John Jesurun's Philoktetes; No Dice by Nature Theater of Oklahoma; and Sarah Kane's Blasted.

The La Jolla production of <i>The Farnsworth Invention</i>.
The La Jolla production of The Farnsworth Invention. Photo by JT Macmillan
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