PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 18-24: Menaced Musicals

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 18-24: Menaced Musicals
Fans of new musicals—there are a few out there—suffered from agita all week. If a show wasn't facing the hanging jury known as the New York critics, it was being served an eviction notice.

The latter happened to Urinetown, the satiric tuner that had a classic good-news, bad-news week. The good news was that it finally recouped its $3.7 million after more than two years at the Henry Miller Theatre. The bad news was that same theatre is about to disappear. The thing developer Douglas Durst told the producers would happen when they first moved in—namely, the construction of a new 57 story skyscraper on the site—finally came to pass. Urinetown must pack up by Feb. 15 so that Times Square might have another shiny spire.

The show may transfer to another Broadway, or Off-Broadway, house, or it may fold its tent for good. As for the fate of the theatre—a question of more lasting impact—the Miller facade, landmarked by the city, will remain, and Durst said he will build a new 950-seat Broadway theatre within his new complex. But until 2008, New York will be possessed of one less Broadway house. Silver lining: the bad news comes just as the long-dark Biltmore Theatre comes back to life. So the number of Broadway theatres will hold steady at 39.

Bounce, the Stephen Sondheim musical with an uncertain future, and Wicked, the Stephen Schwartz musical with an expensive price tag, both opened to critics on the same day, Halloween eve (scary!). The reviews for Wicked, a comic instructive deconstruction of the Oz story, were resolutely mixed. Critics offered across-the-board, diamond-in-the-rough praise for the Glinda the Good of Kristin Chenoweth—the sort of singling out the actress must be used to by now—and expressed near complete disappointment in Schwartz's score. As for Bounce—Sondheim's latest, at the Kennedy Center, forces weary New York reviewers onto DC-bound Metroliners—the verdict was not yet in at press time. But whether the notices stop the show in its tracks or send it speeding to Broadway, the curious will soon be able to hear the score. An album will be recorded in Washington on Nov. 11.

A new Off-Broadway musical, Wilder, faced the music as well. The Jack Herrick-Mike Craver-Erin Cressida Wilson show, based on a play Wilson wrote, and starring John Cullum opened Oct. 26 to a chorus of disapproval. And then there's that other imperiled musical, Taboo. The troubled Rosie O'Donnell-produced English import, which, has not yet been reviewed, but the cast and crew much feel like its begin judged by the press every moment of every day. Previews began Oct. 28, after a delay, and the opening, for now, is Nov. 13.

Plays didn't necessarily fare much better over the past seven days. Much attention was focused on the new Richard Greenberg work The Violet Hour. That will happen when you lose two-fifths of your cast before opening. Laura Benanti left during previews because of "creative differences." And Jasmine Guy departed after a week of previews for "medical reasons." Much ink was spilled as the dailies speculated about the real reasons behind the exits. And the candid Greenberg confessed to the New York Times that the production was the oddest experience he had ever undergone in the theatre—also, probably not the experience he and Manhattan Theatre Club hoped for when The Violet Hour was chosen to inaugurate the grandly-relit Biltmore Theatre. As for Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, the Broadway two-hander that opened Oct. 29: Well, playwright Richard Alfieri must be reminiscing a lot about the good times back in Los Angeles. That's where the play opened in 2001, with the legendary Uta Hagen and the famous David Hyde-Pierce. It enjoyed an extended summer run and some award nominations. The show seemed New York- and glory-bound at the time. But then it lost Hagen to a stroke, and, shortly after, Hyde Pierce was out of picture. Lesser lights Rue McClanahan and Mark Hamill were secured as replacements, but McClanahan quickly bowed out, eventually to be supplanted by Polly Bergen. The long slog to Broadway was rewarded by the kind of reviews that swiftly break up opening night parties.

Finally, Actors' Equity looks to be itching for a fight with Broadway producers. And why not? Last winter's strike by the American Federation of Musicians' Local 802 came out pretty well. The theatrical unions circled their wagons, the mayor got involved, and the League of American Theatres and Producers plans to severely cut the size of Broadway orchestras was scaled back. All in all, a strong showing for labor. Equity has its own lightning rod of an issue: non-union tours. Union officials and stage stars gathered in Times Square Oct. 29 to protest these road shows. Call it an unofficial beginning to negotiations with the League over a new contract. The real talks begin next spring.

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