PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 12-18: Python Grips Broadway

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 12-18: Python Grips Broadway The brightly colored coils of Monty Python had Broadway in a stranglehold all week, as theatre fans, critics and professionals awaited the March 17 opening of Spamalot, the musical which all of the above—even the critics—hoped would provide The Street and the season with the kick in the pants it desperately needed.
Tim Curry in Spamalot
Tim Curry in Spamalot Photo by Joan Marcus

Once the confetti settled, it was clear that the critics did their part, praising the musical for its silliness (no review passed without employing this word or a variation thereof), comedic skill and intentionally shoddy production values, even if more than one critic surmised that the highly self-referential show was at heart something a bit like a very expensive edition of Forbidden Broadway. As for the audience, all observers reported them to be deliriously happy—the Python fanatics, and those uninitiated in the famed comedy troupe's routines, alike. And the producers? Well, they were happiest of all! According to Variety, the show opened with a whopping advance of $18 million, taking in more than $300,000 in sales each day. That's even better than the record set by The Producers, which opened with $15.6 million in sales.

Comparing Spamalot to The Producers is very much to the point. The two shows share more than brisk sales, media hype and critical hosannahs. Both got their publicity steamrollers started with wildly successful tryouts in Chicago. Both were put together and scored by personages highly placed in the world of comedy, but fairly untested as musical songwriters (Mel Brooks, Eric Idle), with an able assist by redoubtable veteran theatre directors (Susan Stroman, Mike Nichols). Cast-wise, both enterprises are mainly games for funnymen, with one exaggeratedly female exception apiece (Cady Huffman, Sara Ramirez). Both trafficked in willfully outlandish scenarios first born on the silver screen ("The Producers," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"). And both walk knee deep in tongue-in-cheek references to musical theatre past.

Come Tony time, the two shows may have even more in common.

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Without having yet reached New York, the new revival of Sweet Charity grabbed nearly as much ink this week as Spamalot. But the news wasn't about happy producers and tickets sales. It had to do with a broken foot (star Christina Applegate's), the elevation of a standby to star for the Boston tryout (Charlotte d'Amboise), the addition of two new supporting actors (Kyra DaCosta and Janine LaManna) and the very real possibility that d'Amboise, and not Applegate, will open the show on Broadway. The backstage drama began March 11 when Applegate busted her hoof swinging on a lamppost. The show was stopped while Applegate's understudy, Dylis Croman, prepared to go on and finish the performance. Soon after, it was announced that the show would arrive in Boston with d'Amboise in the title role March 18-27, at the Colonial Theatre. But not before the producers decided to use the peaceful interlude in between to reveal that Kyra DaCosta and Janine LaManna would replace Solange Sandy and Natascia Diaz as Helen and Nickie, Charity's best friends.

Having d'Amboise's open on Broadway is the kind of Cinderella story the New York theatre press—which loves troupers like her, and tends to distrust Hollywood parvenus—would love. Whether d'Amboise will actually be in the show when it officially opens on Broadway April 21, however, is an open question. Applegate has been described in several publications as saying she is determined to be on the stage of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre come opening night.

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Giving its first preview on March 17 is the dark horse show that could very well upset the Best Musical Tony contest that everybody seems to have decided is between Spamalot and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. That is Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas' The Light in the Piazza. Bartlett Sher directs a cast including Kelli O'Hara, Victoria Clark, Michael Berresse, Sarah Uriarte Berry, Patti Cohenour, Beau Gravitte, Mark Harelik and Matthew Morrison.

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A good deal of the cast of the forthcoming Broadway musical The Mambo Kings was announced. Featured in the stage version of Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel will be "NYPD Blue" star Esai Morales, "Six Feet Under" actress Justina Machado, Grammy Award-winning Cuban music star Albita and "Star Wars" veteran actor Billy Dee Williams. (How's that for artistic diversity?) Previews begin at the Broadway Theatre July 18 and opening is Aug. 18 following a four-week out-of-own tryout, May 24-June 19, at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre.

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Finally, another week, another extension of the Roundabout Theatre Company's Twelve Angry Men. The show, which began back when John Kerry still had a shot at the White House, will now play through May 15. But you just can't extend forever at the American Airlines Theatre; there are expectant subscribers who have paid for a whole season of theatre, after all. So, what to do with a show that's as red hot as this? Why, tour! In a highly unusual move for the nonprofit, director Scott Ellis will embark on a national tour to be presented in association with Clear Channel Entertainment. It is slated for a 2006-2007 season start. The only stop thus scheduled is Washington D.C., where they know a little something about flawed legal processes.