Granted, there was plenty to take seriously from the get-go. The new musical was based on a very, very, perhaps too-well-known property, the college dorm geek favorite, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." It was devised by one of the original Pythons, Eric Idle, who has lost none of his wit and skill. Mike Nichols descended from his lofty throne to direct it and, as is Nichols' wont, he rounded up a crop of A-list names to play the Knights of the Round Table, including Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria.
Following the hallowed path first trod by The Producers (its name be praised), the show decided to open in Chicago. And what do you know? That Producers path still works! Critics cried "Hooray" and pronounced it more than ready for prime time—that is, Broadway. Smelling a hit, several bloodhounds from the New York theatrical press made the trek to view it and all came back with smiles pasted on their faces. (Not so much because they enjoyed it, mind you, but because they could now boast of having seen a coming monster hit before their compadres in the fourth estate.) The New York Post's Michael Riedel was one of these, and he was quick to proclaim the show this season's Producers, pointing out the handsome advance sale at the Spamalot box office.
The same day Riedel made his comparison, another hotly anticipated musical, David Yazbek's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels offered the press a look-and-see preview. Viewers were reportedly impressed, and very soon free-lance Broadway book-makers were envisioning the block-lettered names on the placard: Spamalot vs. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Everyone, it seems, likes a good horse race (everyone, of course, except the producers backing the competing horses).
Yazbek, meanwhile, must be feeling like its deja vu all over again. It was his fine show The Full Monty that lost all the prizes to Mel Brooks' The Producers back in 2001. The last thing he wants is to encounter another Goliath at Tony time. But he might take heart by looking not at that Tony race, but the three that followed it. In 2002, Hairspray won for Best Musical, but loser Movin' Out is still running and recently recouped. In 2003, Thorough Modern Millie won the prize, but that didn't prevent Urinetown from soldiering on and turning a profit. And last year, Avenue Q upset Wicked. Yet both are still around and well into the black. So, though there may be a race, all the spoils do not necessarily go to the victor.
*** Another Broadway-bound musical opened this week in Chicago: the new Joe DiPietro-Christopher Ashley-Elvis Presley musical All Shook Up at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Around the same time, yet another Jukebox Musical announced its cast. Will Chase, Chuck Cooper, Julie Danao, Mandy Gonzalez, Marcy Harriell, Chad Kimball, Terrence Mann, Julia Murney and Michael Potts will make up the ensemble of the new Broadway musical Lennon. Written and directed by Don Scardino, the new musical is based on the songs of the late pop music icon, performer and songwriter John Lennon, once of The Beatles. It will begin previews on July 7 with the opening date set for July 21.
And while we're talking about musicals—and doesn't it seem like we're always talking about musicals in the theatre?—Broadway had been nearly 15 years without A Chorus Line, which closed in 1990. But it won't go without it for much longer. That show, one of the biggest hits in Broadway history and a landmark work of the musical comedy genre, will return to the Great White Way on Sept. 21, 2006. The forces at work are familiar ones. The musical will be produced by the well-known and well-connected entertainment lawyer John Breglio, who represented the musical's director-choreographer-conceiver Michael Bennett while he was alive and still handles his estate. And it will be directed by Bob Avian, who was co-choreographer of the original. Also participating in the revival will be the show's other surviving creators, including Marvin Hamlisch and designer Robin Wagner. The outing will be Breglio's producing debut, though he's had an unseen hand in getting many another show to the stage.
One of the few new plays of the second half of the Broadway season, Donald Margulies' Brooklyn Boy, began Broadway previews Jan. 13. This is Margulies' first new work to reach New York since he won a Pulitzer Prize for Dinner With Friends. Manhattan Theatre Club produced and Daniel Sullivan directs Adam Arkin.
Meanwhile, entering the much more crowded play revival field on Broadway is a late entry by the Roundabout Theatre Company, Peter Nichols' drama Passion Play. Mark Brokaw will direct the work about trust, sex, lust and love, which will begin April 15 at the American Airlines Theatre.
It's not the smoothest exit you could ask for. On Jan. 8, while anticipating her final performance in "The Wizard of Oz"-inspired hit Wicked one day later, Tony Award winner Idina Menzel fell through a trap door during the "melting sequence" and injured her side, cracking a rib. Menzel was rushed off in an ambulance and standby Shoshana Bean completed the show. The injury didn't prevent Menzel from taking her curtain call on Sunday, however. She surprised the sold-out crowd when she came onstage — dressed in a red track suit — to complete the final scene of the musical.
Interestingly (or perhaps not, depending on your attitude toward showbiz trivia), Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," also suffered a mishap during a disappearing sequence. She was severely burned and was off the film for a month. Moral for actresses: make sure your insurance is current before playing the WWW.
Finally, Jerry Springer – The Opera—as talked-about a musical as the world has seen in the past couple years—announced it will shut up shop at the Cambridge Theatre on Feb. 19, 2005, after 609 performances. The show was once expected to run for years and was a candidate for a speedy transfer to Broadway. A lesson, perhaps, for all the folks currently crowing about Spamalot. Nothing's certain, not even in the theatre.