PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 11-17: Come Back, Lost Playwrights!

ICYMI   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 11-17: Come Back, Lost Playwrights!
Broadway will give two one-time Broadway giants a new look in 2008, it was revealed this week.
S. Epatha Merkerson
S. Epatha Merkerson Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Manhattan Theatre Club will bring William Inge back to Broadway by producing Come Back, Little Sheba in early 2008. Inge, a major playwriting presence in the 1950s, is occasionally produced in New York, but usually the choice is Picnic or Bus Stop, the film versions of which are well-remembered and often screened. Rarer is a staging of the play that really started it off for Inge: Sheba. It has not been seen on Broadway in 57 years, since the time it made Shirley Booth a star.

The MTC revival, directed by Michael Pressman, will star S. Epatha Merkerson at the Biltmore Theatre. The production was previously seen in Los Angeles. Merkerson's partner in Sheba's central loveless marriage has not been named. The Transport Group's recent revival of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs gave the critics a chance to ruminate a bit on Inge's legacy. Sheba will allow them to elaborate.

MTC, if you remember, promised a new production of Clifford Odets' The Country Girl a while back, but it was subsequently cancelled. The reason for that scratch may have been director Mike Nichols' interest in the work. The New York Post reported this week that Nichols plans to direct a Broadway revival of the late Odets work in spring 2008 (the same time frame as the Inge revival). And it looks as though Nichols, like Pressman, has an eye toward non-traditional casting for the project. The Post said the play will possibly star Morgan Freeman as the alcoholic actor Frank Elgin and Frances McDormand as Elgin's wife Georgie.

For trivia fans out there, both Sheba and Country Girl debuted in 1950.

*** Musical-wise, the Disney corporation has arguably had more success on the small screen than on the big stage lately. Shows like Tarzan and On the Record have stumbled or not lived up to potential. The television movie "High School Musical", meanwhile, has become a international phenomenon. So far, "High School Musical" has spawned sing-along, dance along and pop-up editions, two versions of the soundtrack, two DVD versions, two stage versions, a concert tour, an ice show and a Ken Burns documentary. (OK, not that last one.)

Intent on keeping the franchise going, the Disney Channel this week aired the premiere of a sequel, "High School Musical 2." Kenny Ortega, who both directed and choreographed the original film, returns for the sequel, which was penned again by writer Peter Barsocchini. Songwriters for the sequel include enough talents to satisfy a Ziegfeld Follies: Matthew Gerrard, Robbie Nevil, Jamie Houston, Tim James, Antonina Armato, Randy Petersen, Kevin Quinn, David Lawrence and Faye Greenberg.

Also returning for the sequel are original stars Zac Efron (as Troy), Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella), Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay), Lucas Grabeel (Ryan), Corbin Bleu (Chad) and Monique Coleman (Taylor).


In London, Charles Dance and Janie Dee have been cast in a revival of William Nicholson's Shadowlands at London's Wyndham's theatre. The drama, about the unlikely relationship between the Irish author C.S. Lewis (Dance) and New York divorcee Joy Davidman (Dee), premiered in 1989 and is probably Nicholson's best work. It will officially open Oct. 8.


Finally, John Wallowitch, a figure long prominent in New York's small, cozy cabaret culture, died Aug. 15 in New York City. If you were born too late to see Noel Coward in the flesh and wondered what he was like, a dose of Wallowitch would give you a pretty good idea. Ever-amused and ever-amusing, a wearer of natty suits and bow ties, composer of thousands of tunes wittily addressing the mores and morals of his and our day, and always behind a piano somewhere, Wallowitch was a late-20th-century Coward, or Porter, or whatever classic suave, sophisticated, caf? society songwriter personality you care to mention. Hard to say if there will be another like him. It depends on if some young tunesmith in the audience was studying him as carefully as he had studied his mentors.

Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2" is slated to premiere August 17.
Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2" is slated to premiere August 17. Photo by Disney Channel
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