PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 27-Dec. 3: Scottsboro, Bloody Bloody and Spider-Man

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 27-Dec. 3: Scottsboro, Bloody Bloody and Spider-Man Broadway didn't wait until the doldrums of January to bring out the bad news this season.

Joshua Henry in The Scottboro Boys
Joshua Henry in The Scottboro Boys Photo by Paul Kolnik

Typically, struggling shows tough it out through the holidays and, if things aren't looking good after New Year's, pull the plug. But producers are apparently not too sanguine about the weeks to come, and many of the productions that made this fall an interesting one on Broadway announced that they would make their exit.

The Scottboro Boys, the risk-taking Kander and Ebb musical that tells a frightful historical tale of denied Civil Rights through the bygone medium of the minstrel show, said it would shutter on Dec. 12, not even waiting to cash in on possible Christmastime theatregoing. Few expected the ambitious musical to thrive on Broadway. Still, the announcement caused many critics to wring their hands in regret. Soon after, another artistically adventuresome new musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, threw in the towel. Jan. 2 would be its last bow, producers said, ensuring that the rock musical would not be another money-making Hair for the Public Theater, which first produced the show. This closing was dismaying in a different way, for Bloody had gotten largely positive notices.

Meanwhile, the week started off on the less-that-cheering note that Elling, the odd-couple comedy previously seen in London, would play its final performance on Broadway Nov. 28 at 3 PM at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, a mere two days after it opened.

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Billie Joe Armstrong
photo by Krissie Fullerton

I'm sure that if the producers of The Scottsboro Boys or Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had a Billie Joe Armstrong in their pocket, they would have shoved him on stage to stop the bloodletting at the box office. Armstong's week-long stint in his own musical, American Idiot, during the week of Sept. 28-Oct. 3, 2010, spawned a $1,092,334 gold rush at the St. James Theatre, giving the show one of its best weeks ever. The Green Day frontman is returning in 2011, and not just for a week. He will play the role of St. Jimmy for 50 performances, off and on, beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27. Now there's a smart way to survive the frigid Broadway winter.

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What's a column focusing on bad news without a section on Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, the Broadway theatre's own slow-motion car crash?

The long aborning mega-musical directed by Julie Taymor and composed by U2 (now safely on tour elsewhere) finally began previews on Nov. 28. And the reports on that preview began on Nov. 29. No less than the New York Times filed a lengthy article on the initial performance, which was plagued by technical problems. The New York Post reported that the production was stopped five times during the performance because of such glitches, causing the running time to balloon to three-and-a-half hours. Most dramatically, the first-act finale hit a snafu when Spider-Man was left dangling above the audience. Several stagehands, according to the Post, tried to grab Carney's feet to lower him.

On top of that, a heckler made news by crying out to all and sundry, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I feel like a guinea pig tonight! I feel this is a dress rehearsal!" She was booed by various audience members. The New York Post, however, being the New York Post, tracked the heckler down to her Long Island (natch) home and devoted a Dec. 1 column to her and her beef with the show. Which may be the most ink a heckler has ever been given in the history of theatre journalism. (Of course, the heckler was more than willing to talk because, well, what do loudmouths do but mouth off?)

Michael Cohl, lead producer of the musical tried to counter the bad, and relentless, press by announcing Nov. 30 that the production sold more than $1 million worth of tickets within 24 hours of the first preview performance.

However, by Dec. 3, the news was bad again. Natalie Mendoza, who plays the role of Arachne — a villainess created by Taymor — missed the Dec. 2 performance due to a concussion. It was not revealed how she got the concussion. She is the third actor in the show to have been injured.

Benjamin Walker and company
Benjamin Walker and company Photo by Joan Marcus
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