Most shows that open Off-Broadway last but a few weeks. This is not because they haven’t been well-received but because so many are part of a non-profit theater’s pre-planned limited-run season. Less common Off-Broadway is the open-ended commercial production. Occasionally a show receives the kind of reviews and public support to establish itself, enjoy an extended run, and possibly even turn a profit. Here are a few of them, plus others that with a little luck could be headed in that direction.
Like "Urinetown" and the more recent "The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," and other little Off-Broadway engines that could and did, "Altar Boyz" has captured the fancy of theatergoers and become a hit. Although its aspirations don’t include a move to Broadway, as did the others, "Altar Boyz" is undoubtedly saving more souls if perhaps not making more money. This is a joyous and funny musical entertainment about a Greensville, Ohio, Christian boy band and their soul-saving mission during the last night of their Raise the Praise Tour in New York. How they set about their genuinely sincere and all-embracing task is the basis for a series of musical numbers that will leave you limp from laughing. With the help of an on-stage electronic device called the Soul Sensor DX 12, the Boyz keep tabs on the number of souls being saved as the evening’s concert proceeds towards its rousing culmination.
Contributing personal testimonies and hilariously dramatized confessions and expressing a commonality in faith amid their high spirited singing and dancing, the Boyz prove to be a wonderful mixture of the best in American youth culture. That does, of course, include, the wholesome as apple pie Matthew; the incredibly dense but making a comeback Luke, the seriously idolizing (particularly when it comes to Matthew) Mark; the hot and limber Tijuana orphan Juan; and Abraham, the enthusiastic Jew whose affiliation with the group didn’t exactly please Momma. The witty socially-inclusive book by Kevin Del Aguila and the faux religious score by Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker may not suit the agenda of the Christian right but, as performed by a terrific cast (although cast changes are inevitable in a long run), with Christopher Gattelli’s exhilarating choreography and Stafford Arima’s skilled direction, "Altar Boyz" provides a lot of fun for the rest. HHH
Altar Boyz, Dodger Stages, 340 West 50th Street. $66 to $69. 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com.
The year is 1960. The egotistical neurotic Orson Welles (Jeff Still), once revered as a genius film director ("Citizen Kane") but now virtually invisible to the industry, is encouraged by his shy and stuttering friend but renowned theater critic Kenneth Tynan (Tracy Letts) to direct a London-production of Ionesco’s "Rhinoceros" to star the unpredictable Laurence Olivier (John Judd). Although he expresses to Tynan his misgivings, justified as it turns out, Welles takes on the challenge. But this is nothing to the headache that Olivier first gives to Tynan in their initial meeting. What transpires in preparation for the first day of rehearsal as well as the rehearsals themselves at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin is the inspired premise of playwright Austin Pendleton’s engrossing play. He considers the volatile clash and clamor of Welles’ and Olivier’s personalities as well as the turbulence created by Olivier’s current emotionally unstable and ailing wife and film star Vivian Leigh (Lee Roy Rogers) and Olivier’s girlfriend and current co-star Joan Plowright (whom Olivier eventually marries).
The play settles into high gear in the second half with Welles trying to explain the absurdist allegory (in which the characters are gradually turned into thick-skinned, one-horned mammals) to the astonishingly dense Olivier. One of the many clever aspects of the play considers Oliver’s ability to sensitively manipulate the women in his life even as they figure out how to manage him. Holding his own in the light of the incorrigible eccentrics around him is Ian Westerfer, as Welles’ naive and relentlessly put-upon assistant. Under David Comier’s direction, "Orson’s Shadow" offers a keen and insightful glimpse into show-biz history. HHH
Orson’s Shadow, Barrow Street Theater, 27 Barrow Street. 212-239-6200.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical
The residents of trailer parks have traditionally been the objects of derision, condescension, and ridicule. In the light of current catastrophic events, the makeup of these communities will undoubtedly be changed, as must our sensitivity toward those who live in them. However, political correctness is definitely not part of the package in the musical "The Great American Trailer Park Musical." So be prepared to enjoy the raunchy redneck humor of six cheap and tacky characters who are as shamelessly stereotypical, crude, rude, vulgar, crass, uncultured, and funny as they come. Thanks to the six show-stopping performers who belt out David Nehls’ bright lively country rock-cum-R&B, gospel, and disco score, and Betsy Kelso’s cliche-propelled book (Kelso also directed with unabashed abandon), this is an entertainment that succeeds through the sheer force of its talent. Despite their propensity for vulgarity, you will be hard pressed not to laugh aloud at the show’s storytellers: tough-as-nails Betty (Linda Hart), the leasing manager at Armadillo Acres; prize ditz Pickles (Leslie Kritzer), a 17-year-old inclined to hysterical pregnancies; and the daffy Lin (Marya Grandy), whose husband is awaiting his execution on death row. As nosy neighbors, they are concerned with Norbert (Shuler Hensley), a married toll collector who is having an affair with Pippi (Orfeh), a stripper at a local dive right under the nose of his unsuspecting agoraphobic wife Jeannie (Kaitlin Hopkins). It seems that Jeannie hasn’t left the trailer since getting a bad perm on the same day that their son Elvis was kidnapped in 1983. Then there is the appearance of Pippi’s magic marker-sniffing, gun-toting, jealous ex-boyfriend Duke (Wayne Wilcox). It’s nothing that a dozen rowdy and rousing musical numbers can’t fix. Not a world-beater but a blast. HH
The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Dodger Stages 1, 340 West 50th Street. 212-239-6200.
One-Man Star Wars, Trilogy
Shown back-to-back the first three Star Wars films run about seven and a half hours. You can experience it all, as performed by British Columbia native solo performer Charles Ross, in just one hour. To call this a tour de force is putting it mildly as this comely young man dressed in a black jump suit takes you for a frenetic laugh-filled ride into a long time ago in the future as he winningly inhabits the likes of Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Princess Leia, Yoda, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, et al, all the while creating his own sound effects, musical underscoring (with nothing but his voice). However, please be advised that this bit of performance art is being done in fast-forward and will most likely be appreciated by those avid fans who have already memorized the scenario.
Under the sharp direction of T. J. Dawe and performing in front of a black curtain, Ross’s interpretation is on the humor behind the plot, but it is shared without destroying his reverence for the film series that has evidently played an important part in his growing up (as noted in the program). The battles in space and the duels with the light sabers are performed with gusto, but it is the many familiar voices of the characters repeating favorite lines that often get the audience cheering with delight. An after-show dialogue with fans adds an audience-friendly touch to this very original if fan-based entertainment. HH
One Man Star Wars Trilogy, The Lamb’s Theater, 130 W. 44th Street. 212-239-6200.
Five Course Love
There was a time when modest musical-comedy revues with talented performers regaled the two-drink minimum set at intimate clubs around town. You can’t have a drink at "Five Course Love," but you can get a bellyful of laughs from the sheer silliness of the skits and the songs as performed by the three versatile and talented performers, under Emma Griffin’s direction. Five skits take place in five different restaurants and involve different characters played with spirited panache by Heather Ayers and John Bolton, as the various lovers; and Jeff Gurner, as the waiter, mostly. At Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats, an unlucky in love loser and a sexy cowgirl mistake each other for their blind dates. A mobster has a rendezvous with his boss’s lusty wife at Trattoria Pericolo. A bi-sexual head waiter in lederhosen and his dominatrix instigate some hilarious S&M games at Der Schlupfwinke Speiseplatz. At Ernesto’s Cantina, a stuck-on-himself bandit and his faithful sidekick fight for the love of a winsome senorita. And at the Star-Lite Diner, an Elvis type won’t give the starry-eyed waitress the time of day as Gregg Coffin’s score gleefully rummages through musical genres. HH
Five Course Love, Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane. 212-307-4100.