PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 3-9: Snake Eyes

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 3-9: Snake Eyes Broadway's Las Vegas gamble (or is it Las Vegas' Broadway gamble?) isn't paying off.
A scene from the Las Vegas production of Hairspray.
A scene from the Las Vegas production of Hairspray. Photo by Paul Kolnik

On June 6—just nine days after the Vegas version of Avenue Q closed after a brief, nine-month run—the Sin City mounting of Hairspray announced an end date of June 11. Its run will have lasted a mere four months.

That's two Tony-winning musicals, and two flops. Quite a change from a season or so ago, when prognosticators and news features were proclaiming Las Vegas "Broadway West," a new goldmine for the legit world. The producers of Avenue Q were so sure of their destiny in the desert that they handed over exclusive regional rights to the musical to Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynn, who built a special theatre for the show. But the production never attracted big audiences and ground to a halt on May 28.

Hairspray, a crowd-pleaser with wider appeal, seemed a safer bet. But, again, the crowds did not materialize for the abbreviated, 90-minute rendition of the show. "We make this decision with regret and disappointment, but with the reality that the show did not find the audience it needed for us to continue," said producer Michael Gill in a statement.

All of which must be rattling the producers of the 95-minute Vegas The Phantom of the Opera (retitled—uh!— Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular), which recently bumped its first preview from June 4 to June 12. Like Avenue Q, Phantom is being treated to a new, $40 million theatre, this one at The Venetian. Then again, Lloyd Webber's melodramatic tale of gothic love may be more to the taste of the Vegas crowds, who have kept Mamma Mia! running for more than three years. The simple plots and pleasures of those two shows do not overly tax the intellect any more than does the average ABBA song. The secret may be in the scores: The ABBA tunes of Mamma Mia! and the lush Lloyd Webber melodies have been around for years, making them the soundtrack of some people's lives. (Also, I hear that famous crashing chandelier falls even faster in Vegas.)

*** Back to "Broadway East."

Keith Carradine and Brian d'Arcy James will be the new con men of Broadway's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starting July 20. They replace the well-praised John Lithgow replacement Jonathan Pryce, and long-timer Norbert Leo Butz.

Butz isn't done with the show, however. He will play Freddy in the national tour, which launches Aug. 4 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. His partner in con will be Tom Hewitt.

Joining Scoundrels on the road will be The Wedding Singer, the new Tony Award-nominated musical comedy based on the popular 1998 New Line Cinema film. The tour will start at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis Sept. 7, 2007, the producers announced June 8.

***

Actors from "The Sopranos" sure have a thing about theatre. Or, at least, their wives do.

Three years ago, Michael Imperioli, who plays Christopher on the HBO series, founded the Off-Broadway troupe Studio Dante with his wife Victoria, an architecture and design student at The School of Visual Arts who designed the company's highly ornamented 29th Street playing space, which could easily pick up extra money renting out as a wedding reception hall.

Now Imperioli's TV mobster buddy, Steven Van Zandt, who plays henchman Silvio Dante, will team with his wife on a theatrical venture. Steven and Maureen Van Zandt, along with producers Nina Keneally and Jamie Lightstone, have created Renegade Theater, which is "dedicated to producing limited Broadway runs of classic American plays" with the hopes of luring television and film stars for eight to 12-week runs. Maureen will be artistic director.

Maybe if Tony Soprano would involve his wife Carmela in the business a little more, he wouldn't have so many troubles at home.

***

Finally, last week this column reported that things Off-Broadway weren't going so well, what with the closing of Playhouse 91, the Lamb's Theatre and the Perry Street Theatre. The theme continues. After a half a year of rumors telling of the The Promenade Theatre's imminent demise, Ben Sprecher, the president of the Sprecher Organization, which operates the theatre, revealed this week that the long-lived Off-Broadway house will close following the final performance of Tryst on June 11.

Along with the Lucille Lortel, Minetta Lane, Union Square, Orpheum and Theatre Row, The Promenade has for decades been one of commercial Off-Broadway's major addresses. It's track record for the past decade has been fairly dismal, but during the '80s and early '90s great American drama found a regular home there. Among the past glories: David Rabe's Hurlyburly, Sam Shepard's The Curse of the Starving Class and A Lie of the Mind , Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, Simon Gray's The Common Pursuit, Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca and A.R. Gurney's The Cocktail Hour.

It will now become an outlet in the Sephora chain, to which news one can only heave a weary sigh and say, "Hey, at least it's not more luxury condos."