Anyone who saw the Broadway show Squonk, with its outsized puppets, new-age-meets-jazzy music and dance-theatre-vaudeville performance techniques shouldn't be surprised that the show isn't going so gently into that good night. Squonk flopped at the box office and closed quickly, crushed especially by an unexpectedly negative New York Times review (the critic had loved the show Off-Off-Broadway and was one of the reasons producers took the risk of bringing it uptown). At season's end, the show has been ignored by the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, and the Tony Nominating Committee failed to honor it with a special Tony.
However, Squonk still has a squeak to make. Co-producer William Repicci just sent a letter (May 10) to the League of American Theatres and the American Theatre Wing, who co-produce the Tony Awards. He's upset that Squonk never even had the chance to be considered for a major award, since the Tony Administrators designated it as neither a play nor a musical.
In his letter, Repicci notes, "This year the [Best Musical] category will include what has been called `a play with music,' (The Dead), a `dance play' (Contact), the dance concert (Riverdance) and the bookless revue (Swing) with music that was written for another medium rather than for performance in a theatrical piece. Squonk, on the other hand, features original music from beginning to end. Music is at the very core of the show and has been written specifically for performance in this theatrical piece, entitled `BigSmorgasbordWunderWerk.' The score is performed live by five actor/musicians who are costumed, choreographed and in character throughout the show... To date, with no response to this issue, the definition of a musical remains in question and the Producers still have no idea how Squonk's exclusion has been justified."
Producer Repicci also brings up the hoopla and union protests about Contact being designated a musical -- even though the show uses a completely pre-recorded track of classical and pop hits.
Especially irking Repicci is that, according to his records, "only a handful" of the Tony Administration Committee actually went to see Squonk before a vote was cast on the show's status. After the show had closed, Repicci volunteered to send committee members a tape of the production, but "only one member requested the tape." *
Though its box office steadily climbed in the weeks since the reviewers mostly drubbed it, Squonk -- the Pittsburgh-born, avant garde, music-theatre piece -- didn't managed to drum up quite enough business to secure its hold on the Helen Hayes Theatre. Producer Repicci told Playbill On-Line (March 20) that Helen Hayes owner Martin Markinson has enforced the stop clause, a proviso in the rental agreement which allows theatre owners to evict a show if its proceeds fall below a certain level two weeks straight.
Squonk officially closed Sunday, March 26, after 24 previews and 32 regular performances.
Dirty Blonde, the Claudia Shear play which proved a hit at Off Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop earlier this season, became the next tenant at the Helen Hayes, opening May 1.
Bigsmorgasbordwunderwerk had its New York premiere at Off-Off Broadway's P.S. 122 in late summer 1999. The eccentric show received good reviews but was unable to find an appropriate theatre for an extended commercial run until it unexpectedly grabbed the coveted Helen Hayes Theatre after Epic Proportions closed. The show, retitled after the theatre company, began previews Feb. 8 and officially opened on Broadway Feb. 29.
Squonk was founded in 1992 as Squonk Opera, and has toured the U.S. and Canada extensively. What is Squonk? Well... think of it as a cross between avant-garde theatre, performance art, physical comedy and modern dance, with elements of Twyla Tharp, Laurie Anderson, Blue Man Group, Riverdance, Enya and Julie Taymor cropping up throughout. If there was an actual plot, it involved the serving of a banquet, with the lead singer dancer, Jana Losey, being eaten -- and digested -- by a giant monster. Sort of.