PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 7-13: Song of Four

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 7-13: Song of Four Some commentators have called the 2004-05 Broadway season weak on new musicals, but as far as the Tony Awards nominating committee was concerned, there were four very clear leaders in the field.

The Tony nominations were announced May 10, and in category after category you saw the same quartet: Spamalot, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Light in the Piazza and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.It is these four shows that will compete for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Direction of a Musical. Other contenders, such as Dracula, Brooklyn, All Shook Up, Good Vibrations, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even The Frogs by the vaunted Stephen Sondheim, did not seem to muddy the nominators' deliberations in the least.

Who the frontrunner in these races is is hard to say. A month ago, no one would have wasted a second thought before blurting out Spamalot. But the outcome of this year's New York Drama Critics Circle vote, which occurred on May 11, illustrated how things aren't as clear cut as the hype would have us believe. Split in their affections for the four shows, the critical body decided not to award any musical prize this year. (Doubt won for Best Play, The Pillowman for Best Foreign Play.) More worrisome for the Spamalot camp is the New York Post's report that only one of the Circle critics voted for that title.

It's not surprising that each of these shows should boast their separate factions. Could there be four musicals more different than one another? Scoundrels is a book musical comedy in the classic vein. Piazza belongs to the Sondheim-born tradition that treats the musical as the highest form of theatrical art. Spamalot is a near revue that proudly wears its silliness on its sleeve. And Spelling Bee is a hybrid of so many disparate artistic elements and experimental flights of fancy, it probably would feel as at home in some black box below 14th Street as it does on Broadway. It's possible to like all of these shows, but—given that everyone has their own criterion on what makes a musical great—it's improbable that anyone in the theatre could like them all equally. The musical races will certainly be the most interesting ones to watch this year.

The play with the most nominations was, surprise, Doubt. The dimmest bellboy at the Milford Plaza could have predicted that one. It's nearest competition, The Pillowman, received six. In the Play Revival world, both Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Glengarry Glen Ross grabbed six. Woolf was one of two plays—Doubt was the other—to see every person in its cast pull down a nom. Backstage at the Longacre and the Walter Kerr are very happy, loving places this week.

*** It didn't threaten to knock the Tony nominations off the front page, but the May 11 news that John Simon, the [insert your negative adjective here—favorites over the years have included acerbic, caustic, biting, acid, vicious and some not quite so complimentary] theatre critic at New York magazine for the last 37 years, had been dismissed certainly set tongues wagging. Bloodthirsty theatre professionals have stormed Fort Simon many times over the years—failing in every instance to remove his head from his shoulders. After a while, one came to believe that nothing but the Grim Reaper himself would extract the man's poison pen from the New York inkwell. But the magazine's new boss, Adam Moss, said he wanted to take the theatre pages in a "new direction," and, apparently, Simon was headed the opposite way. To replace Simon, Moss chose Jeremy McCarter, a 28-year-old Harvard man known for an ever-loosened tie and some stylish prose over at the lightly read New York Sun. His first review will appear June 1, and, if all works out, given McCarter's age, he could be there much longer than 37 years. As for 80-year-old Simon, he says he wants to keep working. Well, I suppose there's an opening over at the Sun....