PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 1-7: Gone, But Not Forgotten

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 1-7: Gone, But Not Forgotten Tennessee Williams named his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof well, because the work has had many lives on Broadway.

Terrence Howard in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Terrence Howard in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus

The current one, featuring an all-African-American cast, is the fifth, and the second in the last five years alone. The initial interest in director Debbie Allen's production was its nontraditional cast, which features Terrence Howard as Brick, Anika Noni Rose as Maggie, James Earl Jones as Big Daddy and Phylicia Rashad as Big Mama. However, many of the reviews did not extensively examine this aspect of the production, saying Allen had pretty much sidestepped it by moving the action up a few decades. Instead, they focused on the casting, and there wasn't much agreement on that matter.

Some reviewers thought the production suffered when Jones left the stage. Variety opined that Howard's Brick was the strong center of the production, while the New York Times saved its best words for Rose's Maggie. It was that kind of critical reception, where you read the notices and wonder if the reviewers all saw the same show. The appraisals were split between thumbs-down and thumbs-up, with the edge probably going to the latter camp. That's probably good enough for the producers, who already have a commercial hit on their hands anyway.

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Some musicals never die, no matter how checkered their production and critical histories. Take, for instance, Pal Joey. The Rodgers and Hart show has long been labeled a problem show, mainly because, however great the score may be, the title character's a grade A jerk. (Doesn't bother me; I think jerks make very interesting protagonists. But many theatregoers insist that they like the people they see on stage.) Still, talk never seems to die about bringing the property back to Broadway for another try.

Talk turned into action this week. It was announced that Tony Award winners Joe Mantello and Richard Greenberg will team to present the show with the Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54. Greenberg has penned a new book for the musical based on the original by John O'Hara. Graciela Daniele will choreograph. The show is scheduled to begin previews Nov. 21 at Studio 54 prior to an official opening Dec. 11. As for the man who play that selfish blackguard Joey — well, that's the big question, isn't it?

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A stubbornly insistent show of more recent heritage is Side Show, the instant cult Bill Russell and Henry Krieger musical about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton which was seen in a short Broadway run in 1997-98, and has been discussed ever since.

The creators are now revising it under the guidance of director Bill Condon, the film guy behind "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls." It was Condon who said he'd like to take a crack at directing a new stage version and got things rolling. The Roundabout Theatre Company will sponsor a Condon-helmed spring reading of the new material.

The Roundabout may also soon be the home of a new version of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, another cause célèbre among theatre fans. The same theatre has in recent seasons forced theatregoers to reevaluate, reconsider and remember such musicals as Assassins, The Pajama Game and 110 in the Shade. Where would all the limping, homeless musicals yearning to breathe free go if it weren't for this institution?

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West Side Story is not a neglected or undervalued musical. People want to bring it back all the time, but the creators and owners of the property have been very protective, turning them all down — ?until now. The landmark show will finally return to Broadway after an absence of nearly three decades. Who did the creators choose to shepherd the work? Well, one of the creators: librettist, Arthur Laurents.

The revival will make its premiere at The National Theatre in Washington, DC, in December before arriving on Broadway in 2009. The production will also feature Jerome Robbins' original choreography, re-created by Joey McKneely. Kevin McCollum, James Nederlander, Jr. and Jeffrey Seller are producing.

Laurents is known for sticking to what's worked in the past when directing revivals of his works (see the current, Laurents-directed production of Gypsy), but, about this go-round, he has previously said it would be "radically different from any production ever done and contemporary to boot."