Big-time closing notices were the theme of the week, with shows that folks once thought would run forever proving they were mortal after all.
Hairspray, Spring Awakening and Monty Python's Spamalot
Hairspray, Spring Awakening and Monty Python's Spamalot Photo by Joan Marcus (<i>Hairspray, Spamalot</i>), Cass Bird (<i>Spring Awakening</i>)

All three of the week's victims were Tony Award winners for Best Musical. Hairspray, which will shutter on Jan. 4, 2009, won the prize in 2003. Monty Python's Spamalot was the 2005 Tony Award winner; it will end its reign at Broadway's Shubert Theatre Jan. 18. And Spring Awakening, the expressionistic, groundbreaking musical that won the Tony Award in 2007, will expire on Jan. 18 as well.

All made their money back. And all ran a good, long time —Spamalot 35 previews and 1,582 regular performances; Spring Awakening 859 performances and 29 previews; and Hairspray a whopping 2,641 performances and 31 previews. Still, it's hard to escape the feeling that the theatre community expected these crowd-pleasers to stick around a bit longer — particularly the audience-energizing Spring Awakening, which by rights should have been just getting started.

The unseen hand in all this is, of course, the economy, which — as the papers tell us every day — is full of surprises, none of them too pleasant. A lot of people who had money to spend on pricey theatre tickets in this town now don't have money, or have much less; and the other people are afraid that they'll be in the same boat very soon, and so are hoarding their nickels. It's all bad news for would-be blockbuster Broadway shows that plan to open in the next few months. The good news for those productions? Competition at this year's Tony Awards will likely be considerably less stiff.


Speed-the-Plow, David Mamet's 1988 Hollywood satire about a couple of studio snakes and an Eve of a temp secretary who threatens to scuttle the movie deal of a lifetime. The original is remembered chiefly for the stunt work of Madonna in the role of the secretary — surely one of the most cynical bits of casting in theatre history. (Lincoln Center Theater was just getting on its feet back then and needed all the press and ticket sales it could get.) This time around, an actual actress, Elisabeth Moss, was given the role, playing opposite Jeremy Piven and Raul Esparza. The effect was transformational. In 1988, the play got decent reviews. In 2008, it got spectacular reviews. The cast crackled, said reviewers, and the script was as funny and timely as ever. (Question for those critics: does cynicism about Hollywood ever date? I mean, honestly, that town's never gonna find religion, ever.) ***

Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company must be feeling like the average New York shelter-seeker, beaten by fate and fortune as they try to find a decent home at an affordable price with a dependable landlord. The theatre was, at one point, supposed to move into a new performing arts center on the site of the World Trade Center. That fell through. Then the Signature looked to Fiterman Hall, part of Borough of Manhattan Community College, across from 7 World Trade Center. That didn't work out either.

Now, it has finally (fingers crossed) found a new place, and just down the block, too. With time running out on the lease of its West 42nd Street venue, it will shuttle just down the block, moving into the base of a 58-story (still-under-construction) high rise on 42nd Street, aiming for a 2011 residency. The hotel and residential building will house the company, which will operate three theatres in what will be called The Signature Center (including a 199-seat flexible space, a 199-seat fixed space and a 299-seat fixed space). A café, bookstore, lobby, office and rehearsal space are all part of the plan.

The total theatre space cost will be $60 million, with the developer, Related Companies, taking some of that burden and building the theatre's core and shell. And here's the kicker: the Signature space will be designed by Frank Gehry. Gehry's sort of like the kiss of death in New York; whenever anybody announces he's going to build something in the city, it doesn't happen. (e.g. the Miss Brooklyn tower in Atlantic Yards; the downtown Guggenheim). Perhaps Manhattan will now finally get a Gehry creation that isn't a cafeteria that only Conde Nast employees can get into.

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