PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 31-April 6: Been Through the Mill

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 31-April 6: Been Through the Mill The Paper Mill Playhouse, New Jersey's biggest and arguably most famous theatre company, has not had a good week.
The Paper Mill Playhouse
The Paper Mill Playhouse

The company, known for its lavish digs and equally lavish musical productions, which often feature Broadway-caliber talent, revealed that it might shut in the very near future if $1.5 million could not be raised to support its next production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Later on in the week, Paper Mill announced that two real estate companies had agreed to back a bank loan to ensure that the 2006-2007 season at the Paper Mill Playhouse would continue as originally planned—thus allowing the troupe a measure of breathing room.

It's a sad state of affairs for the 69-year-old theatre that once boasted 45,000 annual subscribers, but now commands only 19,500. The high attendance rates are from the day when Angelo Del Rossi ran the show. He was replaced in 2003 by Michael Gennaro, who presented more challenging projects which were not always to the liking of the more traditional-entertainment-minded Paper Mill audiences. Gennaro left in January.

An internet fundraising effort has since brought in $50,000 in donations, while phone solicitations have brought in an additional $100,000. But these amounts represent just drops in the bucket. Meanwhile, a "Save the Theater" rally will be held April 9 at 7 PM in the plaza of the Paper Mill Playhouse. Among those scheduled to attend are actors Michelle Ragusa, John Lloyd Young, Judy McLane, Glory Crampton, Matthew Scott, James Brennan, Nick Corley, Danette Holden and Kate Baldwin.

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Jason Patric and Ron Livingston, best known for their work on screen, will head to the stage in May to co-star in Neil LaBute's In a Dark Dark House for MCC Theater. Performances will begin May 16 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, which is not a dark, dark house at the moment. The Theatreworks/USA production of the new musical Anne of Green Gables is currently having a run there. Anne Shirley and Neil LaBute: now there's an interesting double bill. ***

The Ensemble Studio Theatre has a new artistic director—only the second in its 35-year history. William Carden will take over as producing artistic director effective immediately, succeeding EST founder Curt Dempster, who passed away suddenly on Jan. 19.

Carden was the artistic director of the HB Playwrights Foundation and Theatre from 1994 to 2006 and also has close ties to EST. He has been a member of EST for almost 30 years and served on its board of directors — at one point chairing the members council — until his appointment at HB.

A formal memorial service for Dempster will take place on April 29 at 5 PM at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street.

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Peter Morgan's post-Watergate play Frost/Nixon, a hit at both the Donmar Warehouse and the Gielgud Theatre in London, began previews at Broadway's Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre March 31.

Michael Grandage, who directed the London production, repeats his work for Broadway. Grandage's two stars, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, have also made the transatlantic voyage.

The show's official opening night is April 22.

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Is it a glorious thing to be The Pirate Queen?

Not on April 6, when the reviews came out for the Broadway premiere of the new epic musical by that name. It's the work of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the creators of Les Misérables. The show had serious problems during its tryout in Chicago, so it came as no surprise that notices weren't particularly positive. Critics, while noticing that there was a lot of activity going on onstage, found the proceedings dull and dispiriting, and the music bombastic and repetitive. In short, it'll be rough sailing ahead for the production.

Stephanie J. Block and company in <i>The Pirate Queen</i>.
Stephanie J. Block and company in The Pirate Queen. Photo by Joan Marcus