PLAYBILL.COM'S WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 31-Feb. 6: Beating the Bushes for Broadway

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 31-Feb. 6: Beating the Bushes for Broadway "W" may have left the building, but he remains fodder for showfolk who want to paint him as a fool.
Will Ferrell as George W
Will Ferrell as George W Photo by Robert J. Saferstein

Comedian-writer-actor Will Ferrell opened Feb. 5 in You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W Bush, bringing his antic "Saturday Night Live" impersonation of the 43rd President of the United States to Broadway, at the Cort Theatre.

The limited run through March 15 will include a performance filmed live by HBO. The jaded theatre critics welcomed the TV and film funnyman, saying the 90-minute show had the tang and laughs of a very good episode of "SNL" — maybe even the sort of show you talk about the next day. George S. Kaufman was wrong this time: Satire is not what closes on Saturday night.

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Minsky's, the new musical that serves a juicy slice of American theatrical pie — namely, burlesque — opened Feb. 6 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles after previews from Jan. 21. Tony Award nominee Christopher Fitzgerald, the original Igor of Young Frankenstein, plays the title role of Billy Minsky, the king of burlesque whose family's strip-tease-and-comedy palaces were raided by New York City cops in the early 20th century. The score is by Tony Award-winning composer Charles Strouse (Annie, Bye Bye Birdie) and Tony-nominated lyricist Susan Birkenhead (Jelly's Last Jam). The libretto is by Tony Award winner Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), whose tale barely resembles the movie that first inspired this stage musical — "The Night They Raided Minsky's."

Directing and choreographing the musical about pasties, performers and passing showbiz fads is Tony nominee Casey Nicholaw (The Drowsy Chaperone, Spamalot). The Ahmanson hosted the pre-Broadway runs of Curtains and The Drowsy Chaperone in recent years. Will this be a threepeat?

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Melissa Gilbert

A casting notice revealed this week that Little House on the Prairie, the new musical that broke box-office records at the Guthrie Theater in summer 2008, will play a month-long engagement at the Paper Mill Playhouse starting in September prior to the official kick off of the show's tour. Melissa Gilbert, of the TV series of the same name, inspired by the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is likely to play Ma again, as she did at the Guthrie. New songs have been added to the show since last summer. The tour is booked through June 2010. Francesca Zambello, who staged The Little Mermaid and has First Wives Club on her plate, will again direct the show by Rachel Sheinkin (book), Academy Award winner Rachel Portman (music) and Donna DiNovelli (lyrics).

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The new Broadway revival of Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling's Guys and Dolls, the famous "Musical Fable of Broadway," as it has been billed since 1950, began previews at the newly refurbished Nederlander Theatre Feb. 5. Director Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys) has re-set the show in the era of Damon Runyon, on whose stories the musical is based. That means the 1930s, when swing music was more prevalent. Opening is March 1.

The cast is headed by top-billed Oliver Platt (as Nathan Detroit) and Lauren Graham (as Miss Adelaide), and Craig Bierko (as Sky Masterson) and Kate Jennings Grant (Sarah Brown).

As with McAnuff's staging of Loesser's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, this Guys and Dolls incorporates video design to help create the visual world of the show.

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After 18 months of darkness due to a renovation, Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, was re-lit Feb. 3 with the first preview of the world premiere of James Still's The Heavens Are Hung in Black, a look at Abraham Lincoln's life in 1862. David Selby plays Honest Abe. Opening is Feb. 8.

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Will Chase and Malcolm Gets
photo by Aaron Epstein

As a human, intimate antidote to Broadway's corporate-seeming mega-musicals, The Story of My Life, the tiny two-actor musical about the contours of a lifelong friendship — and its sudden ending — began its Broadway run Feb. 3 at the Booth Theatre. Will Chase and Malcolm Gets star as pals who grew up together, and play ages 6 to 35. Tony Award winner Richard Maltby Jr. directs the intermissionless show, which marks the Broadway debut of the writing team of Neil Bartram (music and lyrics) and Brian Hill (book), Canadian musical writers who are now New Yorkers. The theatrical memory-play of a musical, sweetened with orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, opens Feb. 19.

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A proposed New York state tax on Broadway tickets might add as much as ten bucks to top-price admission, and theatre owners and producers don't like it. Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, was one of the Broadway industry leaders who spoke during a meeting with New York legislative budget writers Feb. 3 in Albany.

The Broadway folk are asking the legislature to reject New York Governor David A. Paterson's proposed tax, which could raise already high prices by eight percent. The theatre leaders, according to the New York Times, argued that the taxes would not only hurt ticket sales but could set off a chain reaction that would affect other tourist-related businesses, including restaurants and hotels, as well as such theatre-dependent businesses as carpentry shops, costume makers and even dry cleaners, who handle theatre costumes.

If approved, the governor's proposed four percent state tax on theatre tickets would also lead to a four percent tax imposed by New York City. A $120 Broadway orchestra seat would then cost an additional $10.

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Announced this week: The fall 2008 Old Vic production of Alan Ayckbourn's three related comedies, The Norman Conquests, will move to Broadway's Circle in the Square for 16 weeks, in a rotating rep schedule, starting April 7. Opening is April 23. A librarian named Norman (played by Stephen Mangan) is in a seductive mood in an interconnecting triptych of plays, directed by Matthew Warchus: Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden.

The 1973 plays follow the same six characters — Norman, his in-laws and the local vet — over a summer weekend in an English Country house.

The in-the-round revival in London — the first revival there in 34 years — was acclaimed. Especially for this production The Old Vic auditorium was transformed to re-create the intimate "theatre-in-the-round" experience that the plays were originally written for. Broadway's Circle in the Square already has an arena configuration.

Warchus (Boeing-Boeing) again directs his 2008 ensemble cast including Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter and Amanda Root.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com.)

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