Announced for Broadway in April 1997, the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Applause, starring Stefanie Powers and produced on tour by National Artists Management Company (led by Fran and Barry Weissler of Grease! and Busker Alley), has closed on the road, reportedly for retooling.
Darren Doutt of the Weissler office said that the closing of Applause will only be temporary. But no further tour dates have been announced, no date for resuming the tour was announced, and the fate of the April 1997 Broadway date is in question.
The musical reportedly will undergo "restructuring" yet keep the same cast and "entire creative staff," Doutt said. "It's really about getting presenters to give us definite dates on the road." Rumors of a closing had been circling the show for weeks and were put in print last week by Back Stage and the New York Post.
"This has been a difficult season for plays and musicals unless they are the mega hits from the recent Broadway season," said a release from the Weisslers. "In an effort to safeguard the road theatres and presenters from dramatic losses and potential economic turmoil, [we] are choosing to temporarily close Applause awaiting a more viable time."
Director of Marketing & Publicity for the tour, Anita Dloniak, elaborated on the statement for Playbill On-Line: "Business has been OK, not dismal, but not great. And in this business, you have to be fabulous or else... It's a rough time for tours. Joseph is canceling in Cleveland, How To Succeed is doing so-so. Carousel sold out for seven weeks in L.A., then did 50 percent business in San Francisco." The tour closed in Columbus, OH, Nov. 24. Though Atlanta was scheduled for the tour, tickets had not gone on sale there prior to the closing notice.
Asked what would be necessary to spark a turn-around in tour fortunes, Dloniak said, "If I knew I'd be a consultant. I'd be lying on a beach in the Bahamas."
More seriously, Dloniak noted that each city's economic situation can drastically affect a show's chances there. (Ticket prices for the Applause tour ranged $22.50-$45.)
Gene Saks directs the show, which is choreographed by Anne Reinking, who currently stars in Broadway's Chicago revival.
Stefanie Powers began her career at age 15, dancing for Jerome Robbins but is best known for appearing in TV's "Hart To Hart" with Robert Wagner. She also toured with him in A.R. Gurney's epistolary comedy/drama, Love Letters.
Powers took some lumps early in previews from iffy word-of-mouth about her ability to carry the show. Playbill On-Line had asked Paper Mill Playhouse manager Geoff Cohen about that, and he responded, "Stefanie has worked like crazy from day one. She looks great, and she sells the audience. I've had people call and say, `Well, we know her from TV, but she has to prove herself on this one.' Then they'll call back after seeing the show and say, `Wow, did she prove it.'"
Cohen added that Powers' Channing stopped the show with the act one closer, "Welcome To The Theatre."
Applause, the 1970 Tony-winning musical tale of backstage backstabbing, began its 22-city national tour in Tampa, Oct. 22.
Variety's Mike Giuliano (Nov. 11), catching the try-out in Baltimore, gave the show a positive, though not boffo, review: "Although director Gene Saks lets some dramatic scenes becme static, this generally is not a bumpy night. The relatively spare set by Michael Anania allows for quick transitions...the lights are bright on Broadway thanks to Howell Binkley, and the costumes by Robert Mackintosh recall both theatrical glitz and disco excess."
Giuliano also had good words for John Dossett's "affable manner and solid singing" and Kate Jennings Grant's "on-the-mark" Eve. His thoughts on Stefanie Powers, however, echoed the general consensus on her performance: "The essential niceness of her persona seems at odds with the part. Sleekly beautiful, Powers lacks the blustery self-confidence of Bacall and seems a bit tense in the early scenes. When she descends the spiral staircase that figures so prominently in the production's set design, Powers is simply walking downstairs, not making a grand entrance. On the plus side, Powers is a much beter dancer than was Bacall. Choreographer Ann Reinking mines this advantage by devising some new dance steps..."
Giuliano also credited Strouse, Adams, Comden and Green for their livelier changes to the show: moving the title song to the opening, and the new finale, "I Don't Want To Grow Old," "which allows Margo to tenderly conclude the evening with the man she finally realizes she loves."
-- By David Lefkowitz