PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 6-12: Broadway and Vine

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 6-12: Broadway and Vine
 
Disney's Tarzan swung in on a vine at the Richard Rodgers on May 10 and thus tied up the 2005-06 Broadway season.
Jenn Gambatese and Josh Strickland in Tarzan.
Jenn Gambatese and Josh Strickland in Tarzan. Photo by Joan Marcus

Disney's first new musical since Aida (if you don't count the touring On the Record); designer Bob Crowley's debut as a director; Phil Collins bow as a Broadway composer; positively the greenest Broadway show since The Secret Garden—the Tarzan opening was a lot of things. The critics thought it was mainly a sumptuously-designed package filled with lifeless writing. Scribes seemed to agree that the songs and libretto didn't exploit the emotional highs of the Edgar Rice Burroughs tale (or the 1999 animated film on which the musical is based).

Jane and Tarzan were not hailed as Broadway's 21st century answer to Curley and Laurey. There seemed to be agreement that some of the show's best material was given to Tarzan's ape parents, played by Shuler Hensley and Merle Dandridge.

The Hollywood Reporter and USA Today, meanwhile, were clinging vines: They cozied up to Tarzan.

Who needs critics, though? The show is said to have a healthy multi-million-dollar advance and lots of interest from family audiences.

*** Tarzan was preceded on Broadway by the openings of two plays: a revival of Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial; and the New York premiere of Conor McPherson's Shining City , a Manhattan Theatre Club production. Critics for the most part found the former engaging, but a little hidebound, and the production a bit stiff. They gave star David Schwimmer an A for effort, but saved their highest praise for stage lifer Zeljko Ivanek, who gave a subtle, shaded performance as the paranoid Captain Queeg.

Shining City, meanwhile, received some nice notices from reviewers who admired McPherson gift for storytelling, grasp of the lonely human condition and love of a good scare. (The contemplative, quiet play ends with a jolt that even fellow Irishman Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore can't provide.)

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The Tony Awards Administration Committee assembled May 10 to discuss eligibility of Broadway shows that opened during the final portion of the 2005-2006 Broadway season. Although both Suzanne Somers' short-lived The Blonde in the Thunderbird and Sarah Jones' still-running one-woman show Bridge & Tunnel had been deemed eligible for nomination in the Special Theatrical Event category, that category has been eliminated. Instead, the Committee voted to award a Special Tony to writer-actress Jones, whose Bridge & Tunnel — her collection of comic and touching monologues and scenes about the immigrant experience in 21st century America — is currently enjoying an extended Broadway run (at the Helen Hayes) run after a hit Off-Broadway engagement.

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For Broadway producers present and future, the announcement that Lisa Kron 's play Well would close on Broadway on May 14 provided the most depressing object lesson to be found during this New York theatre season. One would like to assume (for the sake of the future health of straight plays on Broadway) that a new American title that gets the needed notices will have a run. But Well was showered with praise, and played to some of the smallest houses in Times Square. The reason would seem to be that it lacked those things that generally put a play over these days: a famous star (as with Three Days of Rain); a Pulitzer Prize (as with Doubt); and English pedigree (as well The History Boys); or the backing of one of Broadway's three major nonprofits.

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The New York Drama Critics Circle announced the winners of its 2006 laurels, generally accepted as the most prestigious theatre prizes behind the Tonys and the Pulitzer. The victors were: The History Boys, by Alan Bennett, as Best Play of the 2005-06 season, and The Drowsy Chaperone (book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) as Best Musical. Two special citations were awarded by the NYDCC: one to John Doyle, Sarah Travis and the company of the revival of Sweeney Todd; and one to Christine Ebersole for her performance in the Off-Broadway musical Grey Gardens. This is the first time in the organization's history that two special citations have been awarded.

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Finally, Jill Clayburgh—missing from the New York stage for decades—is making up for lost time this season. Two Broadway shows— A Naked Girl on the Appian Way and Barefoot in the Park—were not enough for her. When Christine Lahti bowed out of Keith Bunin's The Busy World Is Hushed at Playwrights Horizons this week, Clayburgh happily stepped in. Previews will now begin June 2.

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