PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 25-July 1: Summertime Blues

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, June 25-July 1: Summertime Blues
This week, the biggest show scheduled for the Broadway summer shut down before even hitting the New York time zone. Daryl and Jordan Roth, mother and son producers, pulled the plug of The Mambo Kings—the stage version of Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—after failing to find a suitable creative team to rescue the floundering enterprise.
A scene from the San Francisco try-out of The Mambo Kings
A scene from the San Francisco try-out of The Mambo Kings

"While we had pursued several incredibly talented people to join the team and help us realize the full potential of the show, it became apparent to us all that the production could not successfully go forward on the current schedule," said the Roths in a statement (with no indication of any other future schedule for the enterprise).

Among those talents were such names as Tommy Tune, David Ives, Jason Robert Brown, Maury Yeston and Jerry Mitchell. Their mission, should they have chosen to accept it (they didn't), was to overhaul the work of director bookwriter-lyricist Arne Glimcher and composer Carlos Franzetti. In a San Francisco tryout earlier this summer, Glimcher and company's work was thought by critics to lack coherence and energy.

The work was slated for a berth at the Broadway Theatre, starting previews July 20 and opening Aug. 18.

Mambo's exit leaves the summer Broadway season looking pretty spare, occupied mainly by two very different one-person shows—Primo, starring Antony Sher at Holocaust survivor Primo Levi (opening July 11); and The Blonde in the Thunderbird, starring Suzanne Somers as, well, Suzanne Somers (opening July 8).

The other major opening is Lennon, which, like Mambo Kings, has been a musical in artistic peril since a troubled tryout in San Francisco a couple months back. Producers have recently trumpeted the notion that the show is now 40 percent different, having been tinkered with by unconfirmed show doctors. The show, backed by Yoko Ono, features nine actors portraying the late Beatles singer-songwriter John Lennon at various stages in his life backed by an onstage 10-piece band. Opening is set for Aug. 4. ***

The world now knows with what show Disney will finally follow up the successes of Beauty and the Beast, Aida and The Lion King. It is: Tarzan. Or, rather, Disney Presents Tarzan, as the musical's officious official title has it. The show is slated for a spring 2006 Broadway berth at a theatre to be announced. No casting has been set, although Matthew Morrison, Laura Bell Bundy and Adam Pascal all starred in a 2004 workshop. Tarzan (as we'll call it for short) will feature direction as well as set and costume design by Bob Crowley, choreography by Meryl Tankard with aerial movement by Pichon Baldinu of De La Guarda fame (our hero is something of a swinger, remember).

Phil Collins, who penned the score for Disney's animated "Tarzan" film, has written several additional songs for the stage version. The hit tune from the flick was the Oscar-winning "You'll Be In My Heart." The musical will also feature a book by David Henry Hwang, adapted from the film's screenplay.


Broadway will sport two Neil Simon couples this coming season—one platonic and odd, and one romantic and odd. The former everyone's known about for some time: Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple. The latter will be a revival of one of Simon's earliest hits, the 1963 romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park, scheduled to open February 2006. Directed by Scott Elliott, the revival will star Patrick Wilson and Amanda Peet as newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter. The company will also include Jill Clayburgh and Tony Roberts.


Speaking of Lane, don't ever believe him if he complains about exhaustion and overwork. He brings it on himself. Despite having The Odd Couple before him, the actor joined the cast of the upcoming Primary Stages Off-Broadway presentation of Terrence McNally's Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams, which is scheduled to begin previews July 26 and open Aug. 18 at 59E59 Theaters for a run through Sept. 18. (Rehearsals for the Simon comedy are to begin on Sept. 6.)

Aside from the good news this represents for Lane's masseur, nutritionist and chiropractor, the casting is also remarkable in that it reunites McNally with his former muse. In the late '80s and early '90s, when Lane's career was beginning to take off, he created roles in some of McNally's best works, including The Libson Traviata, Lips Together, Teeth Apart and Love! Valour! Compassion! McNally often spoke at the time that he heard Lane's voice when writing the dialogue his plays. Lane did not appear in the subsequent film of L!V!C!, however, and there were numerous reports of a falling out. This will be the first time they've worked together on a play in a decade. The story is about a couple who are given an opportunity to take over a decaying theatre which was once on the vaudeville circuit.


Off-Broadway, the romantic musical comedy adventure Chasing Nicolette will make its debut at the Little Shubert Theatre Oct. 4. Ethan McSweeny will direct the musical by composer David Friedman and lyricist-librettist Peter Kellogg, which is drawn from the 13th-century fable of Aucassin and Nicolette, lovers separated by race, class, religion and geography.

Elsewhere, producer Eric Krebs has obtained the theatrical rights for Nickel and Dimed, the six-actor play by Joan Holden based on Barbara Ehrenreich's bestselling non-fiction book of the same name. Krebs expects to produce the play in Manhattan perhaps as early as fall.


Across the season, London has a very good year. A new report from the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) stated that, in attendance terms, 2004 was the London theatre's second-most successful year on record. The Box Office Data Report 2004 said that there were 12,016,233 visits to the theatre. That marks a 3.7 percent rise from 2003, although 2002’s 12,064,100 is the only year to have beaten 2004.

Heading north, the embryonic National Theatre of Scotland announced that, from early 2006 on, the new organization would launch with up to 14 shows a year, of varying sizes. These won’t be confined to a sole arts fortress, but will use venues across Scotland. The idea is that it will be, geographically, a true national theatre. Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of the new venture, said that the work will mainly be about Scotland, or from a Scottish viewpoint. Seems like a pretty narrow focus. But hey, if tiny Ireland can manage to carry off ethnic navel-gazing for nearly a century—and to very good result, too— there's no reason Scotland can't make an artistic go of it.

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