The spiraling state of the national economy has bred lamentable habits in those affected by the financial downtown — that is to say, everyone. We no longer flinch when we pick up the paper and read that another 500 points have been sliced off the Dow. And here in the New York theatre community, we would only begin to wonder if a week passed without a Broadway show announcing its premature closure.
The revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo is one of this week's two victims. What's that, you say? You protest that it just opened? Well, that's true. It did open on Nov. 17. And it will close on Nov. 23. Critics found the revival — which was directed by Robert Falls and starred the curious trio of John Leguizamo, Cedric the Entertainer and Haley Joel Osment — to lack verve, power and urgency, though some found it respectable enough. In a different economic climate, one imagines the producers would put up more of a fight. During the recent string of boom years, it was extremely rare for a Broadway show to shutter so rapidly.
13, the new musical with an all-teenage cast and music and lyrics by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown, made more of a go of it before finally throwing in the towel. This week it was announced the show will play its final performance on Jan. 4, 2009, after 22 previews and 105 regular performances. The bright side of this news, if there is any, is the cast and orchestra won't exactly be thrown out of work; they'll just go back to school.
*** The week's Broadway opening — the Lincoln Center Theater production of Dividing the Estate, the 2007 Off-Broadway hit from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote — will probably live out its scheduled Broadway life, for two reasons. One, it's only slotted to stay at the Booth Theatre until Jan. 4, anyway. And Two, it got some rock-'em sock 'em reviews when it opened Nov. 20.
The tale about a squabbling, once-rich Texas clan that suddenly hits hard time won points for timeliness from the critics. But what's more, they found it to be an excellent illustration of Foote's talent for gentle characterization and well-observed narrative. Some critics called it a genteel relation to the more loudly dysfunctional family found in Tracy Letts' August: Osage County. The cast, which includes Elizabeth Ashley, Arthur French, Hallie Foote, Penny Fuller, Gerald McRaney, Devon Abner, Pat Bowie, James DeMarse, Virginia Kull, Maggie Lacey, Nicole Lowrance, Jenny Dare Paulin and Keiana Richard, was praised for its tight, authentic, ensemble work, with special notice given to Hallie Foote as the production's deft comic center.
If there were ever plans to transfer Road Show, the long-in-arriving Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical starring Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani, they are probably extinguished by now. The show, years in the making, officially opened at the Public Theater Nov. 18, and critics by and large found it wanting. Some cheered it as a beguiling chamber musical, fine on its own terms. But most found it slight and second-tier Sondheim, not having achieved its artistic goals or delved deeply enough into its examination of the American knack for potential and invention undermined by greed and connivery.
John Breglio, the producer of the forthcoming national tour of the Henry Krieger-Tom Eyen Motown musical, Dreamgirls, said it would officially launch at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater in November 2009. Auditions for Dreamgirls' central trio of The Dreams, including the roles of Deena Jones, Lorrell Robinson and Effie White, will be held on Nov. 22 at the Apollo Theatre.
Robert Longbottom will direct and co-choreograph the national tour of Dreamgirls, which follows the rise of a Supremes-like singing group.
When the going gets tough, the tough play it safe. Topol will star in a new national tour of Fiddler on the Roof — again. The actor, who appeared in the 1971 movie, is now 73 and has played Tevye the Dairyman on and off for the past 25 years, in London, Australia, Japan, Europe, New York and across the United States. One might say his participation in the musical has become "Tradition."
Troika is producing the new 2009 Equity tour. It will play major markets including Newark, Detroit, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Diego, Providence, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Houston, Tampa, Seattle and beyond.
Critic Clive Barnes, who covered the theatre and dance scenes in New York and London for 50 years, died this week at the age of 81. The British-born writer attained a longevity uncommon in his field. His byline was a constant in an ever-changing world where which today's marquee name is tomorrow's sitcom supporting player. Critics are rarely, if ever, mourned by theatre practitioners. This is completely understandable; a critic's job is to dissect an artist's work, and it's difficult for those on the receiving end of those criticisms to erase or forgive the memory on an unkind word, publicly aired. Still, it would be short-sighted not to recognize, however briefly, what's been lost. We are saddened when a veteran actor dies, in part because he or she was a conduit with history. Such-and-such, we know, worked with Barbara Harris or Jason Robards or Zero Mostel. They were directed by Joshua Logan or Elia Kazan, in works by Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller. They knew first-hand what those artists brought to the stage, and now that link has been shattered. Why should we not, then, grieve the store of experience an elder critic takes with them when they pass on. A man like Barnes saw the original productions and original performances of plays and parts being revived in our time. He witnessed the full trajectory of many a talent, and saw it evolve and change over the decades. He saw theatre companies born and saw them sometimes die. When a seemingly new trend or movement appeared to arise, he could remember when a similar episode happened a quarter century earlier. He possessed hard-won perspective. He had a long view in a business that has a short memory. He spent a lifetime collecting evidence that he had made the right decision in devoting his days and his thoughts to the stage. Since he was reviewing up until a couple weeks before his death, I imagine he concluded that he had.