Just when it felt like we'd never see the end of those long hot days with no shade (and those long dull nights with too few shows opening), fall is upon us all at once, bringing with it a wealth of new work. The 2002-2003 season is here, and suddenly Jackie Mason is uptown, Tim Miller is downtown, Richard Greenberg is pushing boundaries at the Public -- and all is right with the world. Here is a selective list of noteworthy NYC theatrical happenings over the next few months.
The new season has barely begun and already four shows have opened on Broadway. Two are play revivals (Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune and I'm Not Rappaport, the latter in a constant struggle to survive). One is a revisal of an old Rodgers & Hart musical (The Boys From Syracuse). And then there's the smash hit Hairspray, which has cast its big bouffant shadow over the theater district, daring incoming shows to challenge it.
The first contenders are a couple of low-buzz productions. Jackie Mason's latest stand-up act, Prune Danish, opens on October 8 and is sure to bring in the latter-day Borscht Belt crowd. Two days later, Frank Gorshin will Say Goodnight Gracie in his one-man show about the legendary comedian George Burns and his tragically short-lived wife.
The musical comedy Amour (that means l-o-o-o-ve!) opens on October 20. Malcolm Gets and Melissa Errico star in this Marcel Ayme tale about a civil servant in 1950s Paris who discovers he has the magical ability to walk through walls. James
Lapine directs, Didier van Cauwelaert provides the book and lyrics, Jeremy Sands adapts them into English...and Michel LeGrand supplies the music.
Flower Drum Song finally blooms on October 17, following a generally well received engagement in Los Angeles last year. The old Rodgers and Hammerstein tuner is about a young woman who falls in love -- and falls into a struggle between assimilation and tradition -- in San Francisco's Chinatown. It now boasts a significantly rewritten book courtesy of David Henry Hwang and a terrific cast, headed by Lea Salonga and José Llana.
Movin' Out moves in on October 24, bringing with it the baggage of largely negative reviews from its Chicago try-out. Word has it that the band, led by Michael Cavanaugh, plays the hell out of some 24 Billy Joel tunes, but that Twyla Tharp's choreographed story -- about a Long Island boy who goes to war, comes back, gets into the drug scene, and eventually comes clean -- ranges from the clichéd to the very odd. Hollywood Arms, opening October 31, also comes from Chicago with less than stellar notices, but the guiding arm of director Hal Prince might just bring out the best in this autobiographical tragicomedy written by Carol Burnett and her late daughter Carrie Hamilton. Tony Award winners Linda Lavin and Frank Wood star.
Judging solely by the marquee that's been up at the Minskoff Theatre for the last few months, it's hard to know just what to make of Dance of the Vampires. The plastic vampire teeth suggest comedy but the show's fans (already legion, if cultish, thanks to smash productions in Austria and Germany) would attest that it's much more. Star Michael Crawford should be enough to draw a crowd, as should composer Jim Steinman, best known for penning the hits of pop singer/oddity Meat Loaf.
A highly anticipated but risky property opening its doors on December 8 is La Bohème. With Baz Luhrmann's name and visionary directing attached to the show, there is a significant possibility that the opera could end up a hit on Broadway. But Puccini is hardly a name destined to draws throngs of tourists, and Jonathan Larson fans will quickly discover that -- sexy, young cast aside -- La Bohème is a lot different than Rent, even if they are the same basic story. Still, if Baz could make teenagers weep at a movie musical, maybe he can make high sopranos and tenors hip again.
On December 12, Nora Ephron's Imaginary Friends opens at the Barrymore Theatre. Swoosie Kurtz plays Lillian Hellman and Cherry Jones is her arch-nemesis Mary McCarthy in a show about the bitter legal battle between the two literary figures. No word yet on how much music is in this "play with music," but it's got an impressive team of musical theater artists lined up: Jack O'Brien (Hairspray, Full Monty) directs, Jerry Mitchell (same) choreographs, and Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia (Sweet Smell of Success) team up again to write the music and lyrics.
Brian Stokes Mitchell will begin charging at windmills on December 5 in a revival of Man of La Mancha at the Martin Beck Theatre. His co-stars will be Ernie Sabella as Sancho Panza and film actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Aldonza, a.k.a. Dulcinea. Don Quixote seems like a good part for the man who memorably created the role of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the musical Ragtime and people familiar with his work can't wait to hear Mitchell tackle "The Impossible Dream."
What better treat for Off-Broadway audiences than a play about the treacheries of Broadway? That's The Butter and Egg Man, a George S. Kaufman classic about a Texas oil millionaire and the two Main Stem hucksters who take him for a ride; it opens at the Atlantic Theater on October 2. Already running is Take Me Out, in which Richard Greenberg dares to suggest that, of all the professional baseball players in America, one might be gay.
A terrific creative team leads the Lincoln Center Theater production of the new musical A Man of No Importance, opening October 10: songwriters Flaherty & Ahrens (of Ragtime fame) plus book-writer Terrence McNally, with Joe Mantello directing. Another "important" show to catch Off-Broadway is Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, more than 100 years old but still one of the great English-language comedies. It will be presented by the Jean Cocteau Repertory in its first season as an Off-Broadway venue after 33 years of existence. Theater and play should make a charming fit; the Ernest Johns-directed production will run throughout the fall. But we'll have to wait till November 21 to meet The General From America in Richard Nelson's take on Benedict Arnold. That traitorous revolutionary, played by Corin Redgrave, will be annexing the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street. (This is the New York premiere for Nelson's latest.)
Two Hollywood stars grace the Signature Theatre stage in Burn This, running through November 3, as Edward Norton and Catherine Keener take the leads in the Lanford Wilson comedy/drama (Signature's new season is dedicated to him) that starred none other than John Malkovich in the original 1987 production. And here's something to really look forward to in the world of Off-Broadway: Sigourney Weaver will be turning up come December 18 in ace playwright Neil LaBute's take on the world after 9/11, titled The Mercy Seat.
The Chip Deffaa Invitational takes over two Chashama theaters on 42nd Street from September 5 through October 15. Deffaa, an entertainment critic for the New York Post, has invited a mixture of rising performers and established artists to participate. Highlights include Danny & Sylvia, a new musical based on the life of Danny Kaye that is brought to the festival by Tony Award winner Thommie Walsh, who serves as artistic advisor on the project; an all-star revival in staged reading form of the Off-Broadway musical flop Birds of Paradise by Winnie Holzman and David Evans; and The Straight Man's Guide to Show Tunes: A One-Guy Show, by Bat Boy composer-lyricist Larry O'Keefe.
It seems that a number of high profile artists are working Off-Off-Broadway this season. Laurence Luckinbill writes and stars in the New York premiere of Teddy Tonight!, a solo show about the first President Roosevelt, opening October 18 at the Abingdon Mainstage Theatre. And Spalding Gray, the man who brought the autobiographical solo performance form to an all-new level, returns to his downtown roots to workshop Black Spot; the show, to be performed at P.S. 122 beginning October 7, features the writer/performer's keen observations on such grim events as a car accident in Ireland and a big move that had been planned for September 11, 2001.
The World Trade Center tragedy affected all New Yorkers but was particularly difficult for businesses in the downtown area. SoHo Rep, located on Walker Street just a few blocks from Ground Zero, was one of the hardest hit. Immediately following the terrorist attacks, the company lost $60,000 in rental income in just 10 days. The Obie Award-winning troupe is now hopefully on the road to recovery, opening its 28th season on November 12 with the premiere of Signals of Distress, a multi-media work based on Jim Crace's novel of shipwrecked passengers stranded on England's desolate northern coast in 1830.
England is also the destination for the acclaimed and controversial performance artist Tim Miller, who is about to move to London. His last show, Glory Box, revolved around his political and deeply personal fight for gay marriage: Miller's Australian boyfriend cannot stay in the U.S. because our nation's immigration rights do not apply to same-sex couples. Hence, Miller's decision to become an expatriate. Before he leaves, you may find him at P.S. 122 from November 21 through December 1, performing a show based on his new book, Body Blows.
The New York International Fringe Festival has proved that little shows with big dreams can make it all the way to Broadway, and there's no shortage of acts willing to try. Bbut many artists still look upon Off-Off-Broadway as a destination in and of itself; Doric Wilson, one of the pioneers of the O-O-B movement back in the days of the Café Cino, is among them. TOSOS, co-founded by Wilson in the 1970s, was NYC's first professional gay theater company; recently resurrected by Wilson, TOSOS II has several plans for the fall, starting with a run of What the F**k, two campy and irreverent plays by David Bell set to play at the Duplex from September 6 through 27.
And one final note: Dixon Place ends its residency at the Vineyard 26 this October, and future plans are uncertain for this presenting institution. Dixon Place is well-known and respected as a venue where both established and emerging artists can develop new work -- and that's certainly one of the hallmarks of the Off-Off-Broadway scene.
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The Piano Man, 2002: Michael Cavanaugh in Movin? Out
"Foolish girl...you can't wear traditional costume after Labor Day!"
Lea Salonga and José Llana in Flower Drum Song
(Photo: Craig Schwartz)
Cherry Jones and Swoosie Kurtz
get catty in Imaginary Friends
(Photo: Joyce Tenneson)
He's no Mike Piazza: Daniel Sunjata in Take Me Out
(Photo: Mark Douet)
Teddy bared; Laurence Luckinbull
will essay a Roosevelt