PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 7-13: They Are "Magic"

By Robert Simonson
July 13, 2007

So this is how it feels when Hell freezes over.

Xanadu, the unlikely stage adaptation of the execrable 1980 movie musical, the project that Broadway prognosticators have been setting up for the past several months as the theatre's next Good Vibrations, opened on July 11 to positive reviews.

Think the critics have never been mellow? Well, they were that day, decreeing that the show that had become everyone's favorite punching bag the supposed career folly of director Christopher Ashley and bookwriter Douglas Carter Beane was, against all odds, witty, endearing goofy and a blissfully pain-free good time. The performers, including Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson, Tony Roberts, Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, were working at the peak of their talents. In fact, everyone has somehow found the exact right tone for the 90-minute spoof of bad art, Greek mythology, misbegotten cultural trends and theatrical cliches.

The day after the opening, the miracles kept on coming. Xanadu broke a box-office record at the Helen Hayes Theatre, taking in $150,000 at the box office that day. Not a record-breaking sum for most theatres, but the intimate Helen Hayes seats only 579. The laugh that the show's neophyte producers laughed on the way to the bank must have been a loud and hearty one indeed. They deserved the guffaw. After all, they had endured the departure of hoped-for star Jane Krakowski; sweated through the in-previews injury of male star James Carpinello; suffered the daily jibes of their colleagues in the theatre. Now they can take with pride their table at Joe Allen's; on that restaurant's famous wall-of-flops, a poster of their show will never hang.

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In New York, we have a few important theatre-owning families. There's the Nederlanders, an actual clan related by blood; and the Shuberts and Jujamcyns, not true kin, but groups of executives who stick together as closely as family might.

Above the border, however, up in Canada, there's only one dynasty, the one founded by Ed Mirvish in 1963 when he bought and refurbished the dilapidated Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto and instantly transformed himself into a theatre mogul. Mirvish died July 11 at the age of 92. Ed, born in Virginia, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, began supporting his family as a teenager, and failed at an assortment of trades before he made his fortune as Honest Ed, the owner of a large discount emporium in Toronto. He never claimed to know anything about theatre, but bought the Royal Alexandra because he recognized a bargain when he saw it. Perhaps only a self-sufficient immigrant's son like Mirvish could have taken that investment and built upon it by buying up more property along King Street, and then opening restaurants in order to draw people to his theatre. In 1993, he and his son David expanded further, building the Princess of Wales Theatre just down the street from the Alexandra. It was the largest new theatre erected in North America in 30 years. And in 2001, Mirvish Enterprises entered into a management contract to run the Pantages Theatre, now renamed the Canon Theatre.

Though he didn't become a theatre man until he was nearly 50, he almost single-handedly turned his adoptive city into a theatre town. Not even one of the original Shubert brothers could say as much.

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The world premiere of Take Flight, the new musical by award-winning songwriting duo Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire and librettist John Weidman, begins previews July 13 not in the U.S., where it has been developed in countless readings and workshops, but at London's Menier Chocolate Factory.

Take Flight features characters Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and, of course, the Wright Brothers. The production reunites director Sam Buntrock, designer David Farley and musical supervisor Caroline Humphris, the creative team behind the Menier's Broadway-bound, multi-Olivier-winning revival of Sunday in the Park With George.