The best show this week was played on those boards that stretch from coast to coast: the political stage. Even mighty Disney couldn't match the thrilling drama which opened on Nov. 7. Though hours long, audience and media interest never slackened. And that plot twist involving Florida late in the fifth act was a doozy no one could have foreseen. The show, with its two protagonists, Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore, has already lasted longer than some Broadway productions, although this one’s packing 'em in all the way. Of course, it remains to be see whether the invisible playwright of this opus can craft an appealing ending. (As a sidelight, the production also resulted in one hilarious flop: The New York Post's early edition headline: "Bush Wins!")
Despite the stiff competition, Broadway and Off-Broadway still vied for voter/ticket-buyer attention. Old Money began previews at Lincoln Center Theater. This is Wendy Wasserstein's first major effort since the typically Teflon dramatist's An American Daughter unexpectedly died on Broadway. She has a new director this time around in Mark Brokaw (gone is her regular collaborator, Dan Sullivan). And a star theatregoers are used to seeing in musicals: John Cullum. Even before it opened, Old Money was sold out, thanks largely to LCT’s 40,000-strong membership base.
Also beginning on Broadway (though delayed a couple days) was Jane Eyre, the musical begun by librettist-director John Caird and composer-lyricist Paul Gordon more than five years ago and seen in various regional stagings since then. Charlotte Bronte, of course, provided the source material. Marla Schaffel, James Barbour and Mary Stout lead the company as Jane, Rochester and Mrs. Fairfax, respectively. Caird has told Playbill On-Line that the visual aspects of the piece are less dark and gloomy than what was seen in Toronto in 1996, and that the show now feels less like a so-called pop opera and more like a genuine book musical.
Off-Broadway, another musical whose opening was put off a bit, A Class Act, began at Manhattan Theatre Club. Lonny Price, whom theatregoers first saw as a musical lyricist in Merrily We Roll Along, plays another songwriter here: the late Ed Kleban, who penned the lyrics for A Chorus Line. The show could almost be subtitled "Lonny Price, Inc."—the busy man also co-wrote the book and directs.
Keeping Off Broadway even busier were the opening of Cobb, a remount of Lee Blessing’s baseball-based drama made possible by its heavy-duty producer: Kevin Spacey. Also, Anne Meara’s long-awaited follow-up to After-Play, Down the Garden Paths, started previews at the Minetta Lane. But good news for new shows meant bad news for a few Broadway staples. As expected, Saturday Night Fever won’t make it to the New Year. The film-based tuner will close Dec. 30, with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer already slated to open April 26, 2001 at the Minskoff. Jekyll and Hyde may have received a p.r. boost from bringing in "Baywatch"’s David Hasselhoff, but unless the producers can find a mega-star savior, that show will shutter Jan. 7. Reports have had Donny Osmond, David Bowie and KISS rocker Paul Stanley all being courted to play the dual lead role, but so far, no takers. Also, the great irony of J&H will likely continue until its demise: the show has yet to recoup its investment, even though it’s the longest-running show ever at the Plymouth Theatre, and one of the top 50 longest-running Broadway shows of all time. The producers say they’re close, but like Clinton and Gore, no cigar.
One Broadway show that looks to be staying put for awhile is Dirty Blonde, which the New York Times reports has Kathy Najimy soon to take over for author-star Claudia Shear.
Outside the Big Apple, Disney cast its net far and wide, announcing tours of The Lion King and Aida. The long-in-coming Lion King tour will commence in Denver in spring 2002. No further dates have been revealed. Aida has taken considerably less time to reach the regions and will begin it's road show sooner, in March 2001, in Minneapolis. St. Louis, Seattle, Portland, OR, and Denver ( which gets all the luck) follow.
On the regional front, Sam Shepard could not have asked for a starrier cast for his new play, The Late Henry Moss, which started previews Nov. 7 at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. Among the players: Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Cheech Marin and Sean Penn. The turf is prototypical Shepard: It’s about two brothers and the memory of their father and it’s set in the American West.
Finally, since all America is engulfed in voting, campaigning, uncertainty and controversy, what better time for news from the Tony Awards? This week, theatre and television producer Elizabeth I. McCann was named managing producer of the Tony show by Tony Awards Productions, the joint venture of the oft-feuding League of American Theatres and Producers and the American Theatre Wing. A thorough overhaul is expected as the parties involved try to reverse the plummeting ratings of the last two years while balancing the League’s commercial and marketing interests with the Wing’s art-for-art’s sake approach. In a New York Times interview, McCann humorously described her new position as a cross between an "Irish politician and a moving target.” Hey, at least she doesn’t have to wait until mid-November to find out if she has the job.
— By Robert Simonson and David Lefkowitz