PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 5-11: Then Along Came Mary

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 5-11: Then Along Came Mary Who or what is strong enough to push The Lion King from Pride Rock at the glittering New Amsterdam Theatre? A plucky, magical English nanny, that's who.

Disney and Cameron Mackintosh (perhaps the most intimidating producing partnership in the history of Broadway) have made the probably very safe bet that Mary Poppins, which is currently playing in London, will be enough of a megahit to justify the displacing of continuing megahit The Lion King, stampeding wildebeasts and all. The musical will pack up its animals and migrate to the Minskoff, which has only a handful fewer seats than the New Amsterdam. It will leave June 4, 2006, and begin performances in the Minskoff on June 13, giving Poppins plenty of time to move into its 42nd Street home. The latter will begin previews Oct. 14, 2006, and open on Nov. 16.

Prior to the King's taking up his new throne, the Minskoff will undergo some "custom renovations to accommodate the... Production." Hey, those aisle-walking elephants need space!

This is not the first time Disney has shuffled a running property in order to make room for a new show. In 1999, it shifted Beauty and the Beast from the Palace to the Lunt-Fontanne in order to place Aida in the Palace. That plan worked out well: witness the still-present Beauty. (The musical fairytale suffered a cast and scenic downsizing between the Palace and the Lunt-Fontanne, but Lion King will remain a duplicate of its New Amsterdam vision. An entirely new set and physical production will be created for the Minskoff; the mechanics were too elaborate to simply "move" the show a couple of blocks. Audiences won't notice a scenic change.)

Another Disney show, Tarzan, is set to swing into the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 24, 2006. Taking a very short leap of faith, let's assume that show will run for a bit. That means that come October and Mary Poppins' arrival, Disney will likely have four musicals on Broadway.

*** Jersey Boys opened on Nov. 6 and single-handedly breathed life into the all-but-critically-dead Jukebox Musical genre. Critics were pleasantly surprised and entertained by this dramatized story of The Four Seasons, applauded the salty, humorous book (by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice), the snappy recreations of '60s-style-rock-band footwork, and the performances of John Lloyd Young (as Frankie Valli) and his "mobbed-up" partner in music and crime, Christian Hoff (as Tommy DeVito). The show took in a total ticket sales of $529,100 on Nov. 7.

Perhaps not coincidentally, on Nov. 9 the producers of Hot Feet, a new dance musical directed and choreographed by Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire fame (and featuring the songbook of same), announced that show would play a pre-Broadway engagement at Washington, D.C.'s National Theatre March 18-April 9, 2006. Timing is everything.

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The other Broadway opening of the week was Souvenir, which bowed on Nov. 10. Stephen Temperley's play with music— which is subtitled "A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins" — stars Judy Kaye as Jenkins, the legendarily tone-deaf, super-confident society matron who delighted, appalled and baffled audiences and friends during the early 20th century with what she thought was a beautiful soprano voice. Critics were mixed in their responses. While expressing some interest in the story and its telling, they also complained of the one-joke quality of the material and of the work's excessive length.

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Nobody saw Souvenir coming when it was first announced for Broadway. But, what with the willful likes of Joe Brooks and Suzanne Somers prowling the West 40s, these days you never know from where the next occupant of the Belasco, Cort, Booth, etc. is going to be coming.

Which brings us to Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! You say puppets are big on Broadway these days? Well, Jay has heard the call, and he is no arriviste to the world of dummies. A veteran ventriloquist (he created Chuck & Bob on TV's "Soap"), he first presented this on-stage memoir Off Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company home last year, and got decent reviews and an extension. There was talk of Broadway at one point. And what do you know, but the talk was true! The new commercial staging opens at the Helen Hayes on March 19, 2006.