PLAYBILL.COM's THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 5-11: Closing Time

News   PLAYBILL.COM's THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 5-11: Closing Time Angela Lansbury returned to Broadway, August Wilson made his last visit to Pittsburgh's Hill District and Audra McDonald went west, to Depression-era Texas. And with that, the 2006-07 Broadway season came to a close.
Angela Lansbury in Deuce.
Angela Lansbury in Deuce. Photo by Joan Marcus

As has been the pattern this spring, the critics weren't bedazzled about any of the season's final three shows. They admired the work of Lansbury — a Broadway legend long gone from the Street — and her co-star Marian Seldes — Broadway legend never far from the Street — but had little good to say about their vehicle, Deuce, the Terrence McNally play about two aging tennis pros who meet again many years later. It was flimsy material unworthy of its cast, the thinking went.

Radio Golf, the last play Wilson wrote and the final work of his ten-drama cycle examining the lives of African Americans in every decade of the 20th century, opened on Broadway 18 months after the playwright's death. Assessing a play as well as a career, critics found it a respectable capper to the cycle, if not as substantial and riveting as some earlier works. A certain cohesion of plot was noted, as well a wistfulness for the cultural aridity of modern black life. And, as usual with Wilson plays, the actors were praised.

But they weren't praised as much as was McDonald, whom critics agreed was the hot center of gravity of a mild-ish revival of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's dustbowl musical 110 in the Shade. Reviews found a hundred ways to laud McDonald's singing, acting, artistry, and general magnetism, pointing to her pining spinster Lizzie as her best work in some years.

By week's end, talk of next week's Tony nominations had begun in earnest.

*** The Roundabout Theatre Company apparently doesn't have enough theatres. The enormous nonprofit — which already presents in two Broadway houses, the American Airlines and Studio 54, as well as Off-Broadway's Laura Pels — is in negotiations to add a third Broadway house to its list: the Henry Miller Theatre, which is due to reopen in the fall of 2008. The theatre is owned by New York real estate giant the Durst Organization, which, according to the New York Times, had also been approached by the Nederlander, Shubert and Jujamcyn theatre organizations — Broadway's three biggest theatre owners.

Roundabout head Todd Haimes said the Miller would allow the company to have a place to put an extended run of a popular show.

The troupe is not unfamiliar with the space; its production of Cabaret began there, before a construction accident forced it to move to Studio 54. That production of Cabaret, in fact, brought the Miller (re-dubbed the Kit Kat Klub for the show) back to legitimate life after a few decades of use as film house and nightclub. The theatre's facade remains, but the guts are being rebuilt as new construction towers above and around it.

The Roundabout's entire history, in fact, can be traced through the successive reclamation and renovation of a series of theatres, from a renovated movie theatre on 23rd Street (now Chelsea West Cinemas); to the still-extant Union Square Theatre, formerly Tammany Hall; to the now-gone Criterion Center; to the Selwyn, Studio 54 and Miller. Give it long enough, and the Roundabout might even get the Mark Hellinger Theatre back.

***

In other Roundabout news, it was announced that Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays, in a nifty bit of casting, will portray Henry Higgins in an upcoming Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

***

The swells of the New York Drama Critics' Circle bellied up to the bar May 7 and came up with their picks for the best of past season. (Yes, drinks were indeed served. Don't judge. You sit through an entire theatre season and see if you don't need a stiff one.) The Coast of Utopia, by Tom Stoppard, was named Best Play. The Best Musical award was given to Spring Awakening. And the late August Wilson's Radio Golf was named Best American Play. A special citation was awarded to the revival of Journey's End, which every critic adores but few theatregoers buy tickets for.

***

In early 2008, David Mamet will be back on Broadway with a new play for the first time in more than a decade. Why? Well, one would like to say because he's David Mamet and he's got a new play. Of course, that's not how things work on Broadway these days. Instead, it's probably because he's David Mamet and he's got a new play and it's about a presidential election, and is, thus, timely. The play has three characters, a dynamic the playwright favors. A comedy, it concerns President Charles Smith "and is set a few days before the election, in which he is running as an incumbent. The action unfolds over one day and involves, according to a synopsis provided by the producers, 'civil marriage, gambling casinos, lesbians, American Indians, presidential libraries, questionable pardons and campaign contributions.'" How do we know it's a comedy? Because Nathan Lane is being considered for the role of the President.

Audra McDonald and John Cullum in the Roundabout revival of <i>110 in the Shade</i>.
Audra McDonald and John Cullum in the Roundabout revival of 110 in the Shade. Photo by Joan Marcus
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