PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 2-8: The Producers Über Alles

By Robert Simonson
08 Jun 2001

The Producers' Nathan Lane with his Tony; Stephen Sondheim; Chaucer in Rome.
The Producers' Nathan Lane with his Tony; Stephen Sondheim; Chaucer in Rome.
Photo by Lane photo by Aubrey Reuben

Around 8:45 PM Eastern Standard Time, after about seven Tony Awards had been given out and all seven went to The Producers, the numbness started to set in. Not for the people behind that Godzilla of a musical, no. If anything, Mel Brooks just grew more, shall we say (charitably), ebullient as the night wore on. No, the paralysis was for theatre fans, television viewers and journalists who had vainly hoped that something interesting or unpredictable might emerge from the ceremony (when Brooks took the prize for score, thus nixing the only possible chance for a Producers upset, a loud collective groan rose in the Tony press room). But, reality sunk in more acutely and more deeply for the producers and creative teams behind of all those other shows, the ones for whom The Producers' unprecedented 12-Tony victory meant certain doom.

Around 8:45 PM Eastern Standard Time, after about seven Tony Awards had been given out and all seven went to The Producers, the numbness started to set in. Not for the people behind that Godzilla of a musical, no. If anything, Mel Brooks just grew more, shall we say (charitably), ebullient as the night wore on. No, the paralysis was for theatre fans, television viewers and journalists who had vainly hoped that something interesting or unpredictable might emerge from the ceremony (when Brooks took the prize for score, thus nixing the only possible chance for a Producers upset, a loud collective groan rose in the Tony press room). But, reality sunk in more acutely and more deeply for the producers and creative teams behind of all those other shows, the ones for whom The Producers' unprecedented 12-Tony victory meant certain doom.

And so, Jane Eyre and A Class Act, both of which came up empty, will close on June 10, leaving The Full Monty (which also was zilched) as the only non-Producers best musical nominee left standing. (Jane Eyre herself, Marla Schaffel, already has another job, in the new Goodspeed Musicals Gershwin tuner, They All Laughed!).

The smaller triumph of 42nd Street (which won best revival of a musical and, for Christine Ebersole, best actress in a musical), meanwhile, meant the end of the line for Bells Are Ringing and an early July 14 closing date for the once September-bound Follies.



As for the Tony program itself, most everyone agreed it was the best in years—classy, lively, well-paced and entertaining. But Broadway's most valiant effort still didn't make a difference with television audiences; the show's ratings landed only a bit over last year's dismal showing. (Does the NBA have it in for the theatre?; I can't remember the last time the Tonys didn't face off against a playoff game. Perhaps next year, the awards could be given out at Madison Square Garden during half-time.)

The Tonys brought good news to those who won. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, this year's best play revival, extended a couple of months to Sept. 16. The Producers and Proof hardly need to extend, but they did get some heavy traffic at the box office. Proof also announced that a national tour of the David Auburn hit will begin following the resident premiere at the Seattle Repertory Theatre Oct. 8-Nov. 10.

One more thing about The Producers before we leave that show for the time being. Some Broadway insiders had speculated that Martin Short, Mel Brooks' original choice to be Leo Bloom in Broadway's The Producers, would be the one to step in when Matthew Broderick takes a six-week break from the show in the fall—Broderick's taking the time off to play Harold Hill in an ABC television version of The Music Man. But production spokespersons now confirm that casting will stay "inside the company." As such, Roger Bart, a Tony nominee for his wildly effeminate Carmen Ghia, will move up to the co-star slot opposite Nathan Lane during Broderick's absence.

Off-Broadway three major houses premiered new works this week. Keith Bunin's The Credeaux Canvas opened June 5 at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan; David Rabe's The Dog Problem bowed the next night at the Atlantic Theatre Company; and, finally, John Guare's latest, Chaucer in Rome, premiered at Lincoln Center Theater on June 7.

If you produce Stephen Sondheim, the directors will come. Or so it seems, judging from the array of talent corralled for the Kennedy Center's 2002 "The Sondheim Celebration," a colossal event in which six musicals by the bearded maestro will play in repertory. Christopher Ashley will stage the 1994 rewrite of 1981's Merrily We Roll Along and the ghoulish Sweeney Todd (1979). Mark Brokaw will helm A Little Night Music (1973). Sean Mathias will stage Company (1970). And the man who has made Sondheim his career, Eric Schaeffer, will direct later Sondheim works, Passion (1994) and Sunday in the Park With George (1984).