In this space last week, I suggested that some finger-crossing might be in order as insurance against The Visit failing to make it to New York City this coming season. Apparently, no one was listening.
When we last left the beleaguered John Kander-Fred Ebb Terrence McNally musical, it had canceled its pre-Broadway Boston gig to allow star Angela Lansbury as much time as possible to be with her husband, Peter Shaw, who recently underwent a cardiac operation. Late July 20, Lansbury exited the project altogether to devote herself to Shaw's recovery. She said the decision left her "absolutely shattered." Producer Barry Brown said he would look into alternatives and wanted to move ahead with the project. But The Visit was reportedly created with Lansbury in mind, and it is questionable whether a musical actress of her caliber and name value, who would be suited to the role of vicious zillionaire Claire Zachanassian, actually exists (Glenn Close, perhaps) -- and even if one does, it's unlikely she is available. Meanwhile, the 2000-2001 Broadway musical season -- which only two weeks ago included Little Women and Oklahoma! -- is beginning to look like a stock production of Ten Little Indians.
Hope for musical fans, perhaps, lies across the sea. Producer Cameron Mackintosh -- who, lately, can't bring a show into New York to save his life -- opened John Dempsey and Dana Rowe's The Witches of Eastwick at the Royal Drury Lane in London to quite a cheerful review in Variety. Particularly praised were the show's three female stars: Lucie Arnaz, Maria Friedman and Joanna Riding. The show is directed by Eric Schaeffer, who also helmed the Mackintosh-produced Putting It Together. Though it's far too early to tell, this show may be the next Mackintosh production to make it Broadway.
It may have been foolhardy of the producers of True West -- one of last season's true hits -- to think they could find two other actors who: 1) Can expertly interpret Sam Shepard; 2) Are familiar enough with each other's work to operate as a seamless team; 3) Can deftly switch roles every three performances; and 4) Are a draw at the box office. Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly turned out to be four for four. And a rave in the New York Times didn't hurt. Josh Brolin and Elias Koteas, however -- who took over on June 21 -- apparently had a lower batting average and certainly weren't helped by a pan in the Times, with one of the most devastating opening lines in recent history. ("You loved the play. Now see the cartoon.") Soon after the notice appeared, True West announced a closing date of July 29.
Who has the most unhappy board of trustees in the nonprofit theatre this week? Why, it's the fine folks at La Jolla Playhouse, who learned that, after a single season at the theatre, artistic director Anne Hamburger was jumping ship to join Disney, as Executive Vice President of Creative Entertainment for theme parks and resorts. Since the season Hamburger constructed is only just underway, it can't be told how successful her brief reign was. One thing's for certain, however -- there's a lot more black being worn over at the house of Mickey. Hamburger, the former founder of the site-specific theatre company, En Garde Arts, has made the transition from the cutting edge of Downtown New York theatre to Mainstream Entertainment faster than anyone since that other Disney acquisition, Julie Taymor. (Did anyone say, "Richard Foreman's Pinocchio?") Finally, are you a lyricist? Would you like to work with Frank Wildhorn? What am I saying? -- chances are, you already are working with him. The Jekyll & Hyde composer's latest project, called The Romantics, has him teamed up with half the song scribblers in Christendom, including Maury Yeston, Stephen Schwartz, David Zippel, Don Black, Nan Knighton, Leslie Bricusse, Jack Murphy, Gregory Boyd, Robin Lerner and Jim Steinman. The Romantics will be comprised of several 12-15 minute "mini-musicals," each featuring a different lyricist, each focusing on one of the great love affairs from history, fictional and actual -- e.g., Adam and Eve, Anthony and Cleopatra, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The other constant in the project beside Wildhorn will be Mrs. Wildhorn, Linda Eder, who will play all the women.
But which lyricist is going to write the Frank Wildhorn-Linda Eder segment?
--By Robert Simonson