PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 20-26: Musical Horizons

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, March 20-26: Musical Horizons
This week, a couple new musicals were announced for the first half of the 2004-05 Broadway season. One is Dracula, the Musical, the latest by Frank Wildhorn, to start previewing July 12, followed by an opening at the Belasco Theatre Aug. 5. The other is Masada, which will arrive at a Broadway theatre in December 2004. Masada features a score by unknowns Shuki Levy (music) and David Goldsmith (lyrics) and a book by Glenn Berenbeim. And it, indeed, concerns that famous historical battle that led to the suicide of nearly 1,000 Jews.

The two add to next season's odd new musical line-up, which includes the pitch-black London import Jerry Springer—The Opera, which, as the title helpfully points out, is an opera, or close to it; Brooklyn, a new piece by the once-homeless Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson; and Eric Idle's Monty Python's Spamelot, drawn from the irreverent 1975 film. David "The Full Monty" Yazbek's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is likely for spring 2005.

So far absent from the schedule are new shows by the recent champions in the field: Mel Brooks and Tom Meehan of The Producers; Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman; and Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis of Urinetown fame. (This could change if Brooks and Meehan's Young Frankenstein rockets to Broadway after an out-of-town tryout, but no such plan has been annnounced for that work-in-progress.) Neither are there any planned visits of new material from surviving masters of the form, such as Kander and Ebb, Cy Coleman and Stephen Sondheim (though the last two will see revivals), or contributions from the young, Sondheimesque art musical crowd (again, there is a proviso here, since Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza shouldn't be counted out).

The Atlantic Theater Company's 2003 production of Woody Allen's Writer's Block did not do well with critics. But it was a hit at the box office, so it should come as no surprise that the company is welcoming Allen back in 2004-05 to present A Secondhand Memory. Also unsurprising is that David Mamet's latest, Dr. Faustus, should find its New York home with the troupe Mamet founded.

Once theatre people have created their own sandbox, they tend to dig in their heels with the tenacity of a bull terrier. So it's remarkable that Jeff Cohen, who has directed everything produced by his baby, the Worth Street Theatre, stepped aside this week to let David Esbjornson grab the reins of the company's current revival of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. Kramer swears he had nothing to do with the change.

Off-Broadway was busy, as is the case every week this time of year. Johnny Guitar, the new musical based on the 1954 cinematic cat-fight enacted by Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge, opened at the Century Center for the Performing Arts and won kind, if not enthusiastic, reviews. David Auburn's dramatization of the troubled times of a Romanian novelist and dramatist, The Journals of Mihail Sebastian, opened the same day to rather less critical excitement. Bare, the award-winning new musical coming-of age tale about teens at a Catholic boarding school, previously seen in Los Angeles, begins Off-Broadway performances March 25. And, it took a little delay, but The New Group got Roar, Betty Shamieh's tale of Palestinian-American strife, on its feet. Broadway had one opening, the Walter Bobbie production of Hecht and MacArthur's Twentieth Century, presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, acted by Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche and trimmed by Ken Ludwig. Critics were not won over, for the most part. But neither did they particularly like the starry Roundabout revival of The Women of a couple seasons back. And the assessment didn't stop that commercial bonanza one bit. So, extensions and laughter-filled trips to the bank all around.

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