PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 22-28: Jerry and Joey

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 22-28: Jerry and Joey Broadway lost two big names on Tuesday, Nov. 25: Gerald Schoenfeld and William Gibson.
Gerald Schoenfeld
Gerald Schoenfeld

Gerald Schoenfeld was the Chairman of The Shubert Organization, a figure who may not have been known to every theatregoer, but one recognized by every person who has ever worked on Broadway during the last 36 years. A former lawyer with the theatre-owning giant, he and colleague Bernard Jacobs assumed control of the one-time family business in 1972. In charge of 17 Broadway theatres, the two men exercised a great deal of influence on what was seen on Broadway. They also swayed the direction of Broadway in a number of other ways: by creating product on their own, investing in many productions; refurbishing theatres and pushing for the rejuvenation of Times Square (which had hit hard times when they took up the reins in the 1970s); and granting money through the Shubert Foundation. Schoenfeld was routinely called the most powerful man in the theatre. He worked until his final day. He was 84.

William Gibson wrote two of the smash hits of the late 1950s, the romantic comedy Two for the Seesaw and the Helen Keller-Annie Sullivan drama The Miracle Worker. He was not particularly prolific as a writer, but the surprising shelf-lives of his works resulted in an unusually long career. The Miracle Worker was made into an Oscar-winning film and two television movies, and has never been absent from the regional theatre repertoire. Two for the Seesaw became a film, and was adapted into a 1973 Broadway musical, Seesaw. A failed 1977 Broadway show about Golda Meir called Golda was revised into Golda's Balcony and became a 2003-05 Off-Broadway and Broadway hit. Outside of Horton Foote, what writers produce Broadway plays in their 90s? Gibson was 94.

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The Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Pal Joey ran into some trouble this week. Due to a foot injury sustained during the Nov. 21 performance of the musical, Christian Hoff — the Jersey Boys actor who was tackling his first big lead role here — had to withdraw from the production.

Soon after, it was reported that understudy Matthew Risch, who has made a couple appearances on Broadway to date, would permanently step into the title role of Pal Joey. The official press opening night was shifted one week later to Dec. 18 at Studio 54. ***

The Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein will play its final performance at Broadway's Hilton Theatre Jan. 4, 2009, it was announced. It will have played 30 previews and 484 regular performances.

Not bad, but to put it mildly, this is not how things were originally envisioned by Brooks and his lead producer Robert F.X. Sillerman. Well before the show's tryout in Seattle, Brooks and Sillerman — inspired by the record-breaking success of their previous effort, The Producers — functioned as if Frankenstein's smash status were a pre-drawn conclusion. They set premium seat prices at $450, and limited group to 50 seats at most weekend performances. The idea was that people would flock to the show, and pay exorbitant amounts simply because it was the must-see follow-up to The Producers.

In another off-putting move, the producers said they would not disclose their weekly box-office grosses and attendance figures, something every other show does and has done for years. The cumulative effect of these policies was to foster a great deal of resentment among the Broadway community, which is used to vanity, but dislikes high-handed hubris and arrogance.

When reviews came out and the show was deemed labored and unfunny, ticket sales proved not to be as robust as suspected. The producers tried to undo the damage. Tickets prices went down and group sales opened up. But nothing seemed to reverse the downward spiral. Mr. Sillerman told The New York Times that he was "convinced a perception of initial arrogance hobbled the show."

Sutton Foster, Christopher Fitzgerald and Roger Bart in <i>Young Frankenstein</i>.
Sutton Foster, Christopher Fitzgerald and Roger Bart in Young Frankenstein. Photo by Paul Kolnik