PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 29-April 4: Pacific Overtures

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 29-April 4: Pacific Overtures
 
Some enchanting evening — well, the night of April 3, to be precise — the first-ever Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific opened, and the critics were enchanted.
Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot in South Pacific.
Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot in South Pacific. Photo by Joan Marcus

These are the sort of reviews artists dream about on particularly peaceful nights. The New York Times' Ben Brantley went so far as to say he couldn't find a serious flaw to complain about in the entire production, that the show was lush and real and emotionally enveloping and completely free of irony (unlike other recent R&H revivals). Variety called it "ravishing theatre." Reviewers commented on how Light in the Piazza director Barlett Sher approached the material, which many thought could have become dated with the decades, with sincerity and faith in its innate value, while not shortchanging the text's serious concerns about war and racism. The mounting achieved "an almost perfect balance between severity and opulence," the Sun wrote. It was hard to find a negative word in the notices, with encomiums like "ideal" and "perfect" thrown around with abandon. Newsday called the revival "as heartfelt as it is visually spectacular, as seriously musical as it is grand entertainment." How's that for being all things to all people?

With this revival, the rising Sher is probably launched to the top tier of Broadway musical directors for some time to come, just as the production's Nellie Forbush, Kelli O'Hara is fully catapulted to the top of the leading-actress heap.

Looks like the Vivian Beaumont might be tied up for a bit. Hey! That's what happened the last time Sher directed there! (By April 4, South Pacific was an open run, with tickets on sale through January 2009.)

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I guess the 92-year-old playwright Horton Foote would describe his recent behavior with a folksy phrase such as "getting his dander up." The courtly, Southern dramatist, not known for stirring up controversy, told the Lucille Lortel Awards people where to get off this week. Earlier, his praised drama Dividing the Estate had been honored with an "Outstanding Revival" nomination by the group. But Foote didn't feel honored. Primary Stages, which produced the work in 2007, submitted it as a new play, even though it had been first written and produced 20 years ago.

Primary Stages founder and executive producer Casey Childs argued that the play has never been seen in New York City and has undergone substantial rewrites. And so Foote threw the nomination back in the Lortel committee's face. "A mistake has been made in the nomination process," Foote wrote in a letter. "I could not honestly accept a nomination for the play as a Revival."

There are very possibly wheels within wheels here. It's known that the producers have been trying to make a case with the Pulitzer people that Dividing the Estate is a new play. And since the show will be remounted on Broadway next fall by Lincoln Center Theater, there's also the 2009 Tony Awards to be considered. The Lortel people, of course, did not budge on their categorization of the play.

Other people were made happy by the 2008 Lortel nominations (announced March 31), particularly the people behind the musical Adding Machine — an acclaimed Chicago-born show based on Elmer Rice's expressionistic play — which earned the most nominations with six.

Ironically, an award for Outstanding Body of Work Award will be presented to Primary Stages. It's these juxtapositions that make the contentious and tightly-knit world of New York theatre so much fun for the observer.

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Is there any scrappy Off-Broadway musical that doesn't believe it deserves a space on Broadway? In the wake of Spring Awakening, Grey Gardens, Passing Strange and In the Heights now flows news of the elevation to Rialto status of [title of show], the navel-gazing, four-person Off-Broadway musical about the making of a musical. The self-referential show by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell (who also starred) bowed to good reviews at the Vineyard Theatre more than two years ago. There were occasional whispers (often uttered by Bowen and Bell themselves) along the way that the musical might transfer, but after a couple a Christmases pass, one tends to disregard such rumors.

But, whaddaya know? The thing will actually begin previews at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre July 5 with an official opening scheduled for July 17. The Broadway staging will be produced by the Vineyard as well as the Kings of the Off-Broadway-to-Broadway Musical Highway, Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller (Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights), along with Laura Camien, Roy Miller, Kris Stewart.

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The Signature Theatre Company will be trying something new for its 2008-2009 season. As previously reported, instead of celebrating the work of a single playwright — that's so old! — it will celebrate the output of the legendary Negro Ensemble Company.

Newly announced productions for the season will include Leslie Lee's The First Breeze of Summer, Samm-Art Williams' Home and Charles Fuller's Zooman and the Sign. Ruben Santiago-Hudson will serve as associate artist for the season.

The cast of <i>[title of show]</i>.
The cast of [title of show]. Photo by Carol Rosegg
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