PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 19-25: Rent Comes Due

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 19-25: Rent Comes Due It's Thanksgiving week, and Rent-heads certainly have something to be thankful for. They don't have to spend every other night in a darkened Broadway theatre cheering on the vision and legacy of composer Jonathan Larson. They can now alternate those visits with nights in a darkened movie theatre, honoring Chris Columbus' faithful film version of Larson's 1996 musical update of La Bohème.
Idina Menzel in
Idina Menzel in "Rent".

The film—which, tellingly, took as long as its aesthetic predecessor, Hair, to make the jump from stage the screen—opened on Nov. 23 to reviews vastly more split than the general huzzahs that greeted the original show. The 1979 Milos Forman movie of Hair struck many reviewers at the time as a time capsule from what seemed like a long distant era, robbed by time of its urgency and freshness. Dissenting reviews reacted similarly to Larson's tale of East Village bohos circa 1989, battling AIDS, gentrification and the soul-killing spectre of artistic compromise.

The criticism was not exactly a new one. Many observers noted back in 1995 that Larson's sentimental, anachronistic image of downtown life was not exactly a honest picture of life on Avenue B. But in a world unhinged by war and continual threats of terrorism, and a New York where a real estate bubble has all but pushed what bohemia there was left in the city beyond the borders of Manhattan, Larson's world now seemed as quaint and outmoded and irrelevant as Comden and Green's Christopher Street of Wonderful Town. The critics who liked the film applauded its exuberance, innocence and sincerity, as well as Columbus' employment of much of the original cast. The New York Times critique perhaps put it best: "It stakes its integrity on the faith that even in millennial New York some things—friendship, compassion, grief, pleasure, beauty—are more important than money or real estate. It never hurts to be reminded." That seems as good enough an explanation as any for why the musical proved so popular in the first place, or for Larson's initial intentions in writing it.

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Edward Albee's Seascape opened on Broadway on Nov. 21, with a cast including George Grizzard, Frances Sternhagen, Frederick Weller and Elizabeth Marvel. Critics largely found some uncharacteristically (for Albee) gentle pleasures in the playwright's rangy exploration of the concerns of two couples, one human and one lizard. The performers were also praised, none so much as Grizzard, who was applauded for the detail and depth of his portrayal—the same things he brought to another aging Albee man in the most recent Broadway revival of A Delicate Balance.

*** Pop star Britney Spears is not exactly a stranger to Times Square. She's been to the MTV studios and a poster of her selling Pepsi once loomed over the intersection. But producers Barry and Fran Weissler—who apparently never saw a mercenary casting decision they didn't like—want Broadway and Britney to be on more intimate terms than that. According to various reports, the producers are courting the singer and gossip-sheet staple to replace Christina Applegate in the current revival of Sweet Charity. The New York Post reported that, should the deal be realized, the show would hop over to the roomier Hilton Theatre. (Britney Spears at the Hilton, as in Paris, Theatre; it seems perfect, doesn't it?) Netting such a big pop culture fish will be difficult, and the deal could surely fall apart in a hundred different ways. Then again, it's still hard to believe that the Sean Combs A Raisin in the Sun actually happened. But it did.