Take a few weeks off and the town looks like a different place. Producers and theatre companies spent much of the end of August cleaning house, making sure there were plenty of empty hangers on which the theatre community could hang its fall fashions. Broadway's The Dinner Party and Annie Get Your Gun both closed on Sept. 1, and Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby followed suit, as expected. The next day, Sept. 2, saw the demise of Off-Broadway's hits Topdog/Underdog, Saint Lucy's Eyes and Lobby Hero. And, planning ahead, Kiss Me Kate announced a shuttering date of Dec. 30, and The Sweet Smell of Success lost no time in claiming the show's Martin Beck Theatre for itself.
Broadway, at least, needs the room. October, right around the corner, boasts a notable amount of openings (a whopping six!). Among them are the new Ibsen revival, Hedda Gabler, with Kate Burton, Harris Yulin and Michael Emerson; a fresh production of Strindberg's Dance of Death (get a load of the buoyant ad campaign), starring Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren; the ABBA musical lovefest Mamma Mia!; and Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest submission, a new spin of the old work, By Jeeves. Then on Nov. 1, Michael Frayn's farce Noises Off gets a revival. Classics, ABBA, Lloyd Webber — it's like living in the West End.
Off-Broadway looks a little more American. There are new productions by playwright Paul Rudnick ( Rude Entertainment at the Drama Dept.); Sam Shepard ( The Late Henry Moss at the Signature Theatre Company); David Lindsay-Abaire ( Wonder of the World at Manhattan Theatre Club; a dozen or so things written by Charles Mee and about 17 new plays by Richard Greenberg.
The season might bring one other, rather unexpected closing. The Fantasticks, the longest-running show in the modern history of New York theatre, has posted an official closing notice. After 42 years at Greenwich Village's Sullivan Street Playhouse, the chamber musical will end its run Jan. 6, 2002. In late July, dire warnings were already emerging from producer Lore Noto and his son, Tony Noto, who began advertising "last weeks" for the show. A spokesperson said that there's no question the show will cease to exist at the Sullivan Street Playhouse as of the final date, though sources close to the production say there's already very preliminary rumor of possible movement or re-staging at another venue. The villain behind the sudden closing of a New York institution? One guess. "The landlord wants to raise our rent," said Tony Noto. "He hounds us with proposals to not just renovate but reconfigure it so he can add apartments. But if he does that, the theatre would be dramatically different; the upstairs gallery would disappear, the physical space would be smaller. It would not be the same... All we want to do is just run our show. Quite frankly, we just wish this guy would go away." He's not the only one.