PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 19-25: Hitting the Heights

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 19-25: Hitting the Heights The 2006-07 season is so last season. Let's talk about 2007-08.
Robin de Jes
Robin de Jes Photo by Joan Marcus

The producers of the hip-hop and salsa-infused Off-Broadway musical In the Heights — perhaps noticing how well bold new musicals like Spring Awakening and Grey Gardens are doing with critics and the Tonys — said they would move to Broadway in the 2007-08 season. The show's backers are Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller and Jill Furman.

The musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda (music and lyrics) and Quiara Alegria Hudes (book) tells a tale of a tight-knit but changing Latino community at the tip-top end of Manhattan. Miranda also stars in the show, playing the Dominican narrator and hero, Usnavi, who runs a bodega. The show received warm reviews from the critical crowd. Nonetheless, rewrites and revisions are expected prior to the Broadway bow.

A Broadway theatre and dates for In the Heights have yet to be announced. The new musical will play its final performance Off-Broadway at 37 Arts on July 15.

Meanwhile, the first new show of the 2007-08 Broadway season, Xanadu, began previews at the Helen Hayes Theatre on May 23. The improbable new musical, based on the infamous cult 1980 Universal Pictures film of the same name (Greek muses, roller disco, ELO music, Gene Kelly), stars Kerry Butler, James Carpinello and Tony Roberts. Directed by Christopher Ashley, and boasting a book by Douglas Carter Beane, the show will open on June 26. The timing may turn out to be quite savvy. Exhausted by the mayhem of award season, critics may very well respond to a show that asks the musical question, "Have You Never Been Mellow?"

*** Did I say awards? Oh, that's right — some were given away this week. The Drama Desk surprised no one when it named Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia and Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's Spring Awakening Outstanding Play and Outstanding Musical on May 20. Directors of both productions were honored: Jack O'Brien was Outstanding Director of a Play for Utopia, and Michael Mayer received the Outstanding Director of a Musical prize for Spring Awakening.

John Doyle's actor-musician staging of Company was named Outstanding Revival of a Musical, and Journey's End, which just announced a June 10 closing date, was named Outstanding Revival of a Play. Three awards apiece.

One exciting result: Donna Murphy and Audra McDonald tied for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Murphy won for her portrayal of Lotte Lenya in LoveMusik, while McDonald won for her work as the Lizzie in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of 110 in the Shade.

On May 21, it was the Obie Awards' turn. Obies, which honor Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows, were given to, among others: Betsy Aidem, Ron Cephas Jones and Andre De Shields, for Sustained Excellence of Performance; Donna Lynne Champlin for her performance in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and Michael Stuhlbarg for his performance in The Voysey Inheritance. Also honored was Bill T. Jones for his inventive choreography of Spring Awakening.

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Sometimes I think that if a Tony Awards controversy doesn't crop up naturally, the theatre community finds a way to manufacture one. For time immemorial, one of the steadfast rules of Tonydom has been: only musicals that are nominated get to perform on the telecast. Not nominated? Tough luck. Watch the show from home.

Despite this longstanding tradition — which even the pigeons in Shubert Alley know about — producers of the Tonys, according to the New York Post, decided to invite both Legally Blonde and LoveMusik — two new musicals that had not been nominated in the Best Musical category — to perform during the June 10 ceremony at Radio City Music Hall. And guess what? The producers of the musicals that were nominated were upset by this. By the morning of Tuesday, May 22, the offer had been withdrawn. Then it was time for the producers of Legally Blonde and LoveMusik to be angry.

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Enough New York madness already. Let's see what's going on in London. Wanna know where one-time Broadway stalwart Stockard Channing has gone off to? Well, she's signed on to star in a revival of Odets' Awake and Sing!, directed by Michael Attenborough, artistic director of London's Almeida Theatre The play will begin Aug. 31 with an official opening Sept. 6. Channing will play Bessie, the matriarch of the Depression-era Berger family. When the play was recently revived on Broadway, Bessie was played by an English actress, Zoe Wanamaker. So I guess it's only fair that a Yank play Bessie in the London version.

Stockard Channing, pictured here in "Le Divorce," will join the West End company of <i>Awake and Sing!</i>
Stockard Channing, pictured here in "Le Divorce," will join the West End company of Awake and Sing! Photo by 20th Century Fox