PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 13-19: Hardball

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 13-19: Hardball Broadway's League of American Theatres and Producers made a forceful move this week in the ongoing contract standoff between itself and Local One, the stagehands union.
Stagehands working at the load in of The Little Mermaid.
Stagehands working at the load in of The Little Mermaid. Photo by David Gewirtzman

You may recall that on Oct. 9, the League presented its final offer to Local One, saying "Take it or leave it." Well, Local One left it. However, the League apparently wasn't ready to leave it, and decided to put some provisions of the would-be pact in effect. Following a meeting of League members Oct. 16, the trade organization issued a statement at 7 PM in which executive director Charlotte St. Martin said that "the League today took the next logical and responsible step available to achieve a fair contract by implementing portions of its final offer. The implemented provisions will govern how work will be performed going forward."

That means that, even though Local One hasn't signed the final offer, the League is acting as if it had. A subsequent press release sent at 8 PM stated that the new League provisions would not be implemented before Oct. 22. This bold move puts the union in a tight spot as it approaches Oct. 21, when its members vote whether or not to authorize a strike. Both sides are fearful of being the one the turns the light off on Broadway; the union doesn't want to strike and the League doesn't want to execute a lockout. The sticking point continues to be the work rules that dictate how many union members must be used during the load-in and load-out of a Broadway production. Local One says it is unwilling to accept and job cuts; the League says those extra, superfluous jobs have no right to exist in the first place.

In other news, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who brokered a deal between the producers and the musicians union a few years back, offered to put on his White Knight costume again, but was rebuffed by Local One. Stagehands, it seems, don't take direction from no one.

***

Off-Broadway is providing Broadway with yet another musical production. Passing Strange, which played an extended, acclaimed engagement at the Public Theater this past summer, will arrive at Broadway's Belasco Theatre Feb. 8, 2008, with an official opening scheduled for Feb. 28. The musical features book and lyrics by one-named singer-songwriter called Stew and music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald. The entire original Off-Broadway company will transfer to Broadway, including de'Adre Aziza, Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, Rebecca Naomi Jones and co-creator Stew. ***

Film actress and tabloid regular Natasha Lyonne will appear in The New Group's upcoming American premiere of Mike Leigh's Two Thousand Years Off-Broadway, it was announced this week. Artistic director Scott Elliott will stage the Leigh work, which is scheduled to begin previews Jan. 15, 2008, and officially open Jan. 31 on Theatre Row. The play centers on "an assimilated Jewish family [whose] quiet life in suburban London gets turned upside down when their son becomes seriously devout."

***

Kathleen Turner, last seen running her ferocious mouth in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is returning to the stage, but not as an actress. She will direct a Roundabout Theatre Company production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beth Henley play Crimes of the Heart Off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theatre early next year. Turner directed the play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this past summer. The fine cast features Patch Darragh, Jennifer Dundas, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Jessica Stone and Chandler Williams. Darragh, Dundas, Paulson, Rabe and Williams were featured in the Williamstown company.

***

Another forthcoming New York revival will be a new Broadway go-around of Stephen Schwartz's tuneful spin on The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Godspell. It is scheduled to arrive at a Shubert theatre to-be-announced in summer 2008. Daniel Goldstein will direct the production with choreography by Christopher Gattelli. The production reunites the creative team of the 2006 production of Godspell at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse. The show's arrival fulfills one of the recently vocalized new goals of the troubled nonprofit, which is to send more of its productions on to commercial runs on Broadway.

***

Speaking of Broadway — and of the Roundabout, for that matter — the big opening of the week was Pygmalion at the American Airlines Theatre. I Am My Own Wife Tony-winner Jefferson Mays, wearing pants this time, played Prof. Henry Higgins. And film actress Claire Danes, making her Broadway debut, played the "squashed cabbage leaf" he molds into a fine lady. David Grindley directed.

Critics were split on both Mays and Danes. Some thought Danes bloomed in her Broadway debut, some thought she didn't bring much color to the character. As for Mays, most critics recognized that he was bringing a new interpretation to the role, while at the same time wondering if it was a sound interpretation. And almost every reviewer seemed to think the play's main duty was to dispel the songs from My Fair Lady from our collective memory. Tall order, that.

***

Finally, on Oct. 13, 1.27 million viewers watched the initial MTV broadcast of the Broadway musical Legally Blonde. Unsurprisingly, young women ages 12-17 were the highest demographic of viewers tuning in. The MTV broadcast featured the Broadway musical in its entirety as well as behind-the-scenes footage and a pre-show, celebrity-studded "pink carpet." The musical was filmed a total of three times in preparation for the broadcast — once in its entirety, another without an audience, and a Sept. 18 filming with an audience of theatregoers ages 15-25. Cuts from all of the footage was combined for the MTV broadcast. Some observers questioned the wisdom of televising a musical that had only lived on Broadway for half a year. Whether the marketing move will pay off at the box office remains to be seen.

Orfeh and Laura Bell Bundy in <i>Legally Blonde</i>.
Orfeh and Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde. Photo by Paul Kolnik