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Millennium Attractions

Y2K is off to a rousing theatrical start.

By New York City

Eager to move past a holiday season marked by disappointing box office receipts, Broadway and Off-Broadway producers are gearing up for a busy spring following the usual January/February doldrums.

One of the most interesting theatrical developments slated for the early part of Y2K is Contact. This rapturously reviewed "dance play" -- conceived by Susan Stroman and John Weidman, with choreography by Stroman -- is moving within Lincoln Center from the Mitzi Newhouse to

the larger Vivian Beaumont, thereby becoming a Tony-eligible production. It's sure to present a challenge for this year's nominators, as Contact contains very little dialogue, no singing, and is performed to taped music. (Wouldn't you love to have been a fly on the wall during the negotiations with the musicians' union?) Previews begin at the Beaumont on March 2; the show opens March 30.

Of course, Contact isn't the only big story of the season. Following is a selective guide to some of the most noteworthy productions scheduled to open on and off-Broadway over the next several months.

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MUSICALS

Saturday Night. At its beautiful new home on West 43rd Street, Second Stage Theatre will present the New York premiere Saturday Night, which in the mid-'50s was to have been Stephen Sondheim's first Broadway musical -- a production that was canceled when producer Lemuel Ayers died. Based on an unproduced play by brothers Julius and Philip Epstein (who wrote the screenplay for an obscure flick called Casablanca), Saturday Night is about a group of young Brooklynites determined to make a killing in the stock market in 1929 (do consider the significance of the date). The cast is led by rising star David Campbell, who despite some impressive credits (Les Misérables in Australia, Babes in Arms for City Center's Encores!), has yet to be seen in New York in a fully-staged book musical. Previews begin January 20; the show opens February 14.

Aida. If it was good enough for Verdi, it's good enough for them: Walt Disney Theatrical Productions hired Elton John (composer) and Tim Rice (lyricist) to create a pop musical based on the story of a love triangle in ancient Egypt with serious political repercussions. Following its initial production by the Alliance Theater Company in Atlanta last year, Aida then underwent major changes: most of the creative team (including Beauty and the Beast director Robert Jess Roth) was dismissed, and the show was completely revamped.

The new version is now completing a Chicago engagement, marred only by the fact that, due to a malfunction of the set during one performance, leads Heather Headley and Adam Pascal were so seriously injured that the show had to be stopped. (They're fine now.) Apropos to such an epic project, the book of this musical is credited to Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang. With direction by Falls and choreography by Wayne Cilento, Aida begins previews at the Palace Theatre on February 25; opening night is March 23.

The Wild Party (Broadway). Lots of people were convinced it would never happen, but this season New York will see two new musicals based on the same narrative poem of the jazz age by Joseph Moncure March. First is the Broadway version, with music and lyrics by John Michael LaChiusa, directed by George C. Wolfe. Starring Toni Colette, Eartha Kitt, and Mandy Patinkin, The Wild Party will be presented on Broadway by the New York Shakespeare Festival/Joseph Papp Public Theater in association with Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Elizabeth Williams, and Anita Waxman. Previews begin March 7 at the Virginia Theatre; opening night is April 6.

The Wild Party (Off-Broadway). Before Broadway gets wild, however, there is the Off-Broadway version of The Wild Party, presented by Manhattan Theatre Club. Book, music and lyrics for this version are the handiwork of Andrew Lippa, with direction courtesy of Gabriel Barre, and Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, and Julia K. Murney in starring roles. Since MTC is considered an Off-Broadway venue, this show won't be competing with the LaChiusa version for Tony's, but both productions will be eligible for Drama Desk Awards. This could make for some "wild" nomination battles, so definitely stay tuned.

Jesus Christ Superstar. It's another go-round for this seminal 1971 rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, last seen locally in a tacky touring production that briefly played the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Directed by Gale Edwards and with choreography by Anthony Van Laast, this new Superstar comes directly from a tour of the UK. Though no official casting information is available at present, previews have been announced for March 23 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, lately home to the now-closed Ragtime.

The Music Man. In a truly surprising bit of casting, a virtual unknown, Craig Bierko, has been signed to make his Broadway debut as con-man Harold Hill in this Broadway revival of the beloved Meredith Willson musical. (The fact that Robert Preston's performance in both the original Broadway production and the film version of The Music Man is considered definitive may have dissuaded bigger stars such as Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin and Scott Bakula, all of whom were mentioned as possible Hills, from tackling the assignment.) Directed and choreographed by the high-Contact Susan Stroman, this revival also stars Rebecca Luker as Marian the Librarian, with Paul Benedict and Ruth Williamson as Mayor Shinn and his wife. Previews begin April 3 at the Neil Simon; the opening date is to be announced.

The Green Bird. Directed by Julie Taymor, this stage adaptation of a fable by Carlo Gozzi will begin previews April 1 and open April 18 at the Cort Theater. Though it features music by Elliot Goldenthal, it is not a musical in the conventional sense -- but then, neither is Contact, nor were such previous Tony Award nominees as Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake or even Taymor's own Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass. Didi Conn and Derek Smith will appear in The Green Bird, reprising their roles from the show's 1996 production at the New Victory Theater.

Martin Guerre. Heavily revised since its first, critically lambasted production in London, the latest Euro-pop opera by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (Les Misérables, Miss Saigon) finally seems to be headed for New York. Following a US tour that began at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, this new production -- directed by Conall Morrison and starring Stephen Buntrock, Erin Dilly, and Hugh Panaro -- is set to begin Broadway previews on April 15 and to open on April 26, though no theater has yet been announced.

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MUSICALS IN CONCERT

Relatively cheap to produce, with rehearsal and performance schedules so brief that the services of major stars can often be secured, concert versions of classic musicals -- not to mention legendary cult flops -- continue to be all the rage in New York.

City Center Encores!. The most famous of all the musicals-in-concert series, City Center Encores! begins its Y2K season with Alan Jay Lerner & Burton Lane's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (February 10-13). Next up is Bock and Harnick's Tenderloin (March 23-27), followed by Bernstein and Comden and Green's Wonderful Town (May 4-7). No official casting for any of these as of yet.

Musicals in Mufti. Produced on a smaller scale than the City Center's Encores! shows, York Theater's Musicals in Mufti are sometimes even more adventurous in terms of repertoire. This season's opener is Wright and Forrest's Kean (January 14-16), starring Walter Willison, Christiane Noll, Susan Watson, and Arthur Rubin. Though no casting has been set for the remaining two shows in the series -- Harold Rome's Wish You Were Here (January 21-23) and Kander & Ebb's 70, Girls, 70 (January 28-30) -- some major names are said to be under consideration.

Musicals Tonight. The next offering in Mel Miller's series -- Look Ma, I'm Dancing, starring Georgia Engel -- opens March 7 at the Sol Goldman Y on East 14th Street.

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PLAYS

Wrong Mountain. This impressionistic comedy by David Hirson stars Ron Rifkin stars as Henry Dennett, a caustic poet. Bitter over the success of his ex-wife's husband, a hot young playwright, Dennett tries to write his own stage hit. Wrong Mountain is directed by Richard Jones, whose credits include Titanic as well as La Bête, a classic and extraordinarily expensive '90s flop that also marked Hirson's Broadway debut.

The large cast (particularly for a straight play) includes Daniel Davis, Beth Dixon, Anne Dudek, Tom Riis Farrell, Reg Flowers, Jody Gelb, Daniel Jenkins, Ilana Levine, Bruce Norris, Mary Schmidtberger, and Michael Winters. Previews are currently underway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre; opening night is January 13.

A Moon for the Misbegotten. The luminous Cherry Jones in the role of the formidable Josie Hogan is a chief drawing card for this revival of one of Eugene O'Neill's most difficult plays. Directed by Daniel Sullivan and co-starring Gabriel Byrne and Roy Dotrice, previews begin at the Walter Kerr Theatre on March 7; opening night is March 19.

The Time of the Cuckoo. Debra Monk, Polly Holliday, and Tom Aldredge will star in this Lincoln Center Theater revival of Arthur Laurents' 1952 drama about a no-longer-young, unmarried American woman desperately searching for love while on vacation in Venice. The original Broadway production, which starred Shirley Booth, inspired the David Lean film Summertime starring Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi as well as the flop Sondheim/Laurents Broadway musical Do I Hear a Waltz?. Previews begin January 27 at the Mitzi Newhouse; opening night is February 21. Cuckoo is scheduled for a limited run through May 7.

The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Linda Lavin, Michele Lee, and Tony Roberts star in this "devious social satire about mid-life malaise and psycho-sexual liberation." It's the latest work of the ever-subversive Charles Busch, an artist who is equally well-respected for his playwriting as for his brilliant drag performances. To be presented by Manhattan Theatre Club and directed by the company's artistic director, Lynne Meadow, a single-day preview begins February 8 with the opening the following evening.

The Real Thing. This Tom Stoppard play was a smash-hit on Broadway in 1984 with Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Christine Baranski, Peter Gallagher, and Cynthia Nixon. The present revival originated at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Directed by David Leveaux (whose credits include the last Broadway production of A Moon For the Misbegotten, also in 1984, with Kate Nelligan), The Real Thing stars Stephen Dillane, Jennifer Ehle, Nigel Lindsay, and Sarah Woodward. Previews begin March 29 at the Belasco Theatre; opening night is April 24.

The Ride Down Mount Morgan. First premiered in 1991 at Wyndham's Theatre in London, this Arthur Miller play is "about a man whose two wives -- and two lives -- converge after a nearly fatal accident." The show begins previews on March 21 at the Ambassador Theatre, opens on April 9, and is scheduled for a limited run through July 23. Directed by David Esbjornson and starring Patrick Stewart, this production harkens back to the play's first New York mounting, which was a hit at the Public Theater about a year ago.

Uncle Vanya. This is a new look at the classic Chekhov comedy, translated by Mike Poulton, directed by Michael Mayer, and starring the great Derek Jacobi. And if that bit of casting news wouldn't be scintillating enough to sell tickets, Roger Rees and Laura Linney are also featured. Previews begin March 21, and the show will open April 13 at the Roundabout's new location on West 42nd Street -- a theater once called the Selwyn, yet soon to be renamed in honor of a donor who keeps Roundabout's financial future very close to heart.

Taller Than a Dwarf. A new comedy by the peerless Elaine May about "an average couple adjusting to life at the beginning of the millennium," Matthew Broderick and Parker Posey are set to star under Alan Arkin's direction. Previews begin March 24, with an April 25 opening set at the Longacre Theatre.


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