Why do shows open, anyway? To be judged as to their quality, and to ascertain the opinions of the critics, who might sway a ticket buyer or two and stir up some dust at the box office. Right? But the dust long ago settled at the Brooks Atkinson box office; the show sold out before giving performance one. And one of the more interesting questions surrounding this very, very safe proposition is whether Emanual Azenberg and his fellow producers even bothered to read any of the reviews the Friday morning after the Oct. 27 debut. Lord knows, they have no urgent reason to. Tense, all-night meetings with press agents to map out ad campaigns and extract positive blurbs from notices were probably unlikely possibilities.
Poor critics. Attending the duly appointed but completely unnecessary press nights, they looked like nothing so much as forgotten guests at a fancy wedding where their attendance meant absolutely nothing to either member of the happy couple. Still, they are paid to express their opinion, however unheeded, and express them they did. Notices were split, some very positive, some almost wholly negative. Most applauded Lane. Some faulted director Joe Mantello for not finding hidden depths and new shades in Neil Simon's 1965 comedy about two mismatched roommates, which was sort of like complaining that the sponge cake had come out of the oven a bit light and airy.
A few indignant types accused all involved of being in it for the money, to which one could only silently respond: Well, yeah. For the combination of Lane and Broderick equals a ka-ching at the register. Nothing to be shocked about there. I doubt there's been a time in the history of the theatre when a producer, realizing that a talent drew crowds, didn't rush to stick said talent in the first available vehicle. And, upon reflection, it fills one with more optimism than cynicism that it's still possible for a couple theatre-bred stars to ignite excitement wherever they may go. We don't currently have a playwright or composer or director who can pull off that trick. So let's be thankful. And remember, if Azenberg casts them as Jack and Algernon in his upcoming production of The Importance of Being Earnest, the venture is not about Wilde.
Third, the new play by Wendy Wasserstein, perhaps didn't get the kind of reviews the playwright would had hoped for when it opened Oct. 24, but many remarked that it was an engrossing study in ideology and generational differences and called it the best work Wasserstein had done in some years. Largely praised, too, were stars Dianne Wiest, Jason Ritter, Charles Durning and Gaby Hoffman. The show quickly extended a week to Dec. 18. ***
The Roundabout Theatre Company continues to poach young lovers from Lincoln Center Theater's The Light From the Piazza. First it lured Matthew Morrison into A Naked Girl on the Appian Way. Now, Kelli O'Hara, the original American half of the musical Yankee-Italian romance, has announced she will leave to play Babe Williams opposite Harry Connick, Jr., in the Kathleen Marshall-directed production of The Pajama Game, due to begin previews Jan. 19 at the American Airlines Theatre.