PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 21-27: Strictly Ballroom, Cleaning Up Avenue Q, the Drama Desks

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 21-27: Strictly Ballroom, Cleaning Up Avenue Q, the Drama Desks
 
We haven't heard much from Baz Luhrmann since his stylized vision of La Boheme livened up the 2002-03 Broadway season. Back then, there was a lot of talk that Luhrmann's next stage project would be an adaptation of his 1992 film Strictly Ballroom. Then, silence.

Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann

But, give a man a decade and he'll make good on his plans. Strictly Ballroom will receive its world premiere at Sydney's Lyric Theatre in September 2013.

Lurhmann co-wrote and directed the film about the world of competitive ballroom dancing, which was originally conceived and presented as a stage play. He will also direct the fresh stage debut of Strictly Ballroom, which received a December 2010 workshop in Australia.

In a previous interview with Playbill.com, Lurhmann said that he hoped to stage the production in an unconventional venue to capture the open feel of a ballroom. However, The Lyric Theatre is a traditional venue with a proscenium stage. A songwriting team has not been announced for the project. It's not clear if the score will use existing popular music.

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The 2011 Drama Desk Awards, honoring New York City theatre for the 2010-11 season, were announced on May 23 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. To no one's surprise, The Book of Mormon, Anything Goes, The Normal Heart and War Horse emerged triumphant in their respective production categories. Well, actually, the War Horse as Best Play thing was a kind of surprise when you consider that Nick Stafford's family-oriented puppet drama about a boy and his horse beat out works by Jon Robin Baitz, David Lindsay-Abaire and Stephen Adly Guirgis. Don't three-named playwrights count for quality drama anymore? ***

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.
photo by Simon Annand

Two praised productions received extensions this week.

Jerusalem, British playwright Jez Butterworth's tragicomic play about the indelible inhabitants of a slice of rural England, featuring Mark Rylance in a performance that is already the stuff of legend, has been extended by four weeks, now to Aug. 21 at Broadway's Music Box Theatre.

Meanwhile, further downtown, New Yorkers will now have the chance to haunt the hallways of the fictional McKittrick Hotel through the summer. The critically acclaimed immersive theatre experience Sleep No More, based loosely on Macbeth, and presented by Punchdrunk, has extended through Sept. 5.

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The Broadway musical Catch Me If You Can, based on the film and autobiography about the life of former jet-setting conman Frank Abagnale Jr., will launch a U.S. national tour in the fall of 2012 in Providence, RI.

Penned by Hairspray songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman playwright Terrence McNally, the musical opened on Broadway April 10 at the Neil Simon Theatre.

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James Lapine
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The 2012 Encores! concert season of musicals at New York City Center will include Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pipe Dream; Leo Robin and Jule Styne's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along — which, at this point, must be the most unneglected neglected musical in musical history.

James Lapine, who directed an earlier revised version of Merrily at La Jolla Playhouse in 1985, will return to the property as director of the concert version of the 1981 commercial flop that is beloved by fans.

The choice of Merrily is particularly peculiar given that Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park will produce director John Doyle's new production of the show (with actors playing instruments) in 2011-12. That staging is certain to draw the attention of New York producers.

 

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I didn't think it was possible for Avenue Q, the ribald and long-running puppet musical, to be tailored into a version that would be suitable for high school production. But that's exactly what has happened.

So how did MTI manage it? Let's see.

The language (both dialogue and lyrics) has been cleaned-up throughout. The song "Internet Is for Porn" has been replaced with "Social Life Is Online." The songs "My Girl Friend Who Lives in Canada" and "Loud as the Hell You Want" are cut from this version. The scenes with the Bad Idea Bears have been trimmed and amended to focus less on drinking. And a few character names have been changed; Lucy T. Slut is now just Lucy.

Those puppets might actually be suitable for "Sesame Street" now.

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