PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 6-12: Neil and Nielsen

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 6-12: Neil and Nielsen The week after the Tony Awards is usually a time in the Broadway theatre community for recriminations and pointed fingers and asking "What went wrong?," usually because people are unhappy with the broadcast, and, more significantly, unhappy with the dismal ratings.
Tony Award host Neil Patrick Harris
Tony Award host Neil Patrick Harris Photo by Aubrey Reuben

This year was different. By all measures, Broadway should be feeling pretty good about the 2009 Tony Awards ceremony. First of all, the ratings: they were up. It was the highest-rated Tony Awards in three years, according to Nielsen preliminary ratings. The 63rd Annual Tony Awards were viewed by 7.45 million people, a 19 percent increase from the previous season. Now, that's still not a huge viewership, but a double-digit increase is nothing to sneeze it. And it's a damned sight better than a decrease.

Some credit the jump partly to new host Neil Patrick Harris. That's the second piece of good news. Most critics rated him a success: breezy, witty, youthful, and sporting a very shiny suit. And his surprise song at the end — in which he (Billy Crystal like) paid gently mocking tribute to the evening's winners through new lyrics set to a medley "Tonight" and "Luck Be a Lady" — was called a highlight of the broadcast. (A video of it was among the most popular clips on YouTube this week.) If the Tony people haven't already signed him up for next year, they're foolish. The Tonys could benefit from a long-run, identifiable host; someone the public gets accustomed to as the face of the ceremony, the way Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal were at various times for the Oscars. It does no lasting good chasing after the latest flavor (Hugh Jackman, Will Ferrell) every year, when there's no chance they'll be back to help out the next season. The show needs an anchor and Harris seems to actually care about the theatre, and care about doing a good job.

Even the bad news this year was good news in a way. Bret Michaels, the lead singer of the old warhorse 1980s heavy metal band, Poison, performed with the cast of the Tony-nominated Best Musical Rock of Ages. But he got clocked by a moving piece of scenery at the end of the number, resulting in a broken nose and stitches. This led to a lot of back and forth between the Tony publicists and Michaels' publicist as to who was to blame for the mishap. But if the Tony people are smart, they'll know that all this adverse publicity is just keeping the Tony Awards in the news a lot longer than would normally be the case. And Michaels would be wise to understand that this is the most publicity he's enjoyed in a decade. Enjoy it.

Oh, the winners. Right. Well, it was as expected: Best Play, God of Carnage; Best Musical, Billy Elliot; Best Revival of a Play, The Norman Conquests; Best Revival of a Musical, Hair. Among the mild surprises, director Matthew Warchus won not for Conquests, but Carnage. And Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey of Next to Normal won for Best Score.

A few producers saw the writing on the wall. Two shows which came away empty handed — Neil LaButes Reasons To Be Pretty (also known as reasons to be pretty) and the revival of Guys and Dolls — announced they would close on June 14. Joe Turner's Come and Gone and Exit the King also close on June 14, sticking to their originally announced end date. ***

Fela! — the acclaimed musical based on the life of groundbreaking African composer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti that played a limited engagement in fall 2008 at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts — will begin previews at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre Oct. 19.

Bill T. Jones, who won a 2007 Tony Award for his Spring Awakening choreography, directed and choreographed Fela, which played its final performance at 37 Arts Oct. 5, 2008. Jones will repeat his duties on Broadway.

Sahr Ngaujah, who starred in the title role Off-Broadway, will again star on Broadway. Antibalas and other members of the NYC Afrobeat community, under the direction of Aaron Johnson, will perform Kuti's music live onstage.

The show had been heavily championed by some members of the press since its OB debut.

***

This week, New York City Council approved a plan by developers David and Jed Walentas to erect a large housing complex near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo. The development had engendered widespread opposition among Dumbo residents, community activists and celebrities such as author David McCullough and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who maintain that the building will obscure historic views of the bridge enjoyed by New Yorkers for more than a century.

The development will also have a specific effect on the theatre world. St. Ann's Warehouse, the Dumbo performance space which has become a respected center for avant garde theatre from New York and around the world, has resided at the land earmarked for the complex since 2001. (The company had originally planned only a nine-month stay at the former spice-milling factory.) It will now have to find a new home.

St. Ann's is working with developers David and Jed Walentas to find a suitable home for the company, which has two more seasons at Water Street before it must vacate. The company is considering performance spaces ranging from 12,000-14,000 square feet in Dumbo, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Vinegar Hill. Manhattan is also not out of the question.

Tony winners Alice Ripley, Marcia Gay Harden, Kiril Kulish, Trent Kowalik, David Alvarez and Geoffrey Rush
Tony winners Alice Ripley, Marcia Gay Harden, Kiril Kulish, Trent Kowalik, David Alvarez and Geoffrey Rush Photo by Aubrey Reuben