Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 3,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Math and science are playing a major role in changing
the face and the form of Broadway, as the new century gets going.
It is startling to learn that the population of New York City has
almost doubled in the last decade, from 2 million to almost 3.5
making getting hotel reservations difficult. With the Broadway
bustling with plays and musicals (a record-breaking 87 productions
this past season), including the ever-enticing and changing
at seven vaudeville and six burlesque houses, getting tickets at the
last minute can pose a real problem.
Watch out for those big ditches you see being dug along Broadway
traffic jams. Don’t hold your breath, but in a few years, instead
of signaling for a hansom cab, city dwellers will be riding to the
theater of their choice on Manhattan’s first subway, a route that
will run underground from Broadway at City Hall to 145th Street. Above
ground, another construction feat is being planned. The Singer
at a proposed 612 feet, will be — when completed next year —
the tallest building in the world. Yes, those are real electric lights
that are replacing the arc lamps and gas on the marquees. I’ll bet
it won’t be long before they call it "The Great White Way."
The past year has been especially encouraging. The essential goodness
of country folk was dramatized in the popular show, "Way Down
East." This in contrast to the grandiosity of Regency England
society witnessed in "Becky Sharp," an excellent dramatization
of Thackeray’s "Vanity Fair" starring Mrs. Fiske. Too bad
Mrs. Fiske was put on a black list by the producers for not signing
a contract, and evicted from the theater and a well-received
If New York society was mildly shocked by Mrs. Leslie Carter’s steamy
performance in "Zaza," they raised their eyebrows
during Clyde Fitch’s "Sapho," when the shapely Olga
wearing the sheerest gauze nightgown, was swooped off her feet by
the handsome Hamilton Revelle and carried upstairs for whatever eight
times week. Although raided and closed down on opening night,
reopened shortly to the delight of voyeurs who were, however, content
thereafter to see a little less of what Madam Nethersole had to offer.
If you are heading into the city for this first week of the real start
of the new century, it will most likely break your heart to learn
it is virtually impossible to get a seat for the spectacular "Ben
Hur," with that much talked about on-stage chariot race, at the
Broadway Theater. Don’t despair if the SRO sign is up for manly
Jefferson De Angles in the operatic comedy "A Royal Rogue,"
or for matinee idol John Drew as "Richard Carvel." You may
luck out at the Knickerbocker Theater, which is hosting the triumphant
return of Ada Rehan in "Sweet Nell of Old Drury." And don’t
forget "Lady Huntworth’s Experiment," which the Evening Sun
has dubbed "a ripping success."
The talk of the town earlier this season was Maude
charming portrayal in Barrie’s "The Little Minister." Now
it is the dashing William Gillette who is causing the matinee ladies
to swoon over his dramatic representation as the sleuth "Sherlock
Holmes." Theater lovers flocked this fall to the opening of the
handsome new Republic Theater on 42nd Street to see its opening
"Sag Harbor," starring Lionel Barrymore. Now at the Republic
is another star-driven vehicle to interest you. It is the reappearance
in New York of audience favorite Viola Allen in the histrionic costume
drama "In the Palace of the King." There is a new English
play by Henry Arthur Jones — "Mrs. Dane’s Defense" that,
according to the New York Times, "deserves the attention of
At the Garrick Theater, audiences are being attentive to Wm. M. Crane
as rancher turned matchmaker "David Harum." Speaking of
a revival of the old play "David Garrick" (no relation),
Edward S. Willard is entertaining audiences at the Garden Theater.
There is still time for you to catch up with Broadway’s biggest
hit of all time, "Floradora," at the Casino Theater. We
that you will exit singing, "Oh, tell me pretty maiden, Are there
any more at home like you?" "Floradora" hopes to outlast
the previous record-holder "The Black Crook," which played
for an astonishing 16 months. You can also have a barrel of laughs
at Weber and Fields Music Hall where they are spoofing such hits as
"Gay Lord Quex" and "Royal Family."
The divine Sarah Bernhardt is reported to be coming back to Broadway
early this year in a repertory that includes "Hamlet,"
de Bergerac," and "La Dame aux Camelias," en Francais,
of course. But at $5 a seat, the same as the top price at the
Opera House, one wonders who can afford it? Theater ticket prices
are steep enough at the going rate of $1.50 and $2.
Aware of how important it is for the audience to hear every word,
such esteemed actors as Richard Mansfield, Margaret Anglin, and
Robson are to be commended for stopping the performance cold and
the audience to please stop talking amongst themselves.
There is, as you can see, something for everyone at the 33 theaters
in the Broadway area. If you are shopping between the matinee and
evening shows, there is something for everyone at R.H. Macy’s new
store on Herald Square. Can the Gimbel Brothers of Philadelphia now
be far behind?
This is what I might have written were I a Broadway
reporter when the year 1900 rolled into 1901. One hundred years later,
audiences still talk too much after the lights go down, but are more
likely to be chastised for the disruption caused by their cell phones,
beepers, and candy wrappers. None of the theaters mentioned above
are still standing, and I haven’t heard anyone speak of a revival
of "Floradora." The theater-building boom that began in 1905
and continued through the 1920s quickly turned the area north of 42nd
Street into the Great White Way we know today.
We are in the midst of another theater building boom, which started
with the revitalization of 42nd Street. More heartening news comes
with the proposed building of four new mid-sized venues in the
area, once again enlivening, as theaters did in the earlier years
of the century, an area south of 42nd Street. Spearheaded by Jeffrey
Seller and Kevin McCollum (the "Rent" producers) and Dan
Harriet Levy, and Alan Schuster is the development of a seven-story
complex that will house four commercial Off-Broadway theaters, to
be completed in 2002.
The interest in building new theaters is unquestionably determined
by the strong crop of news plays and musicals, a trend that is
according to prognosticators. The box-office and attendance figures
released by the League of American Theaters and Producers indicate
an 11.3 percent rise in attendance. Evidently the $90 top ticket price
for some of the new musicals has not discouraged attendance.
The Year in Review
Math and science are once again playing an important
role both on and Off-Broadway as a new century and new millennium
begin. This time as the subjects of shows like "Proof,"
and "Fermat’s Last Tango." David Auburn’s elegant and profound
"Proof" is a hit after being nurtured and produced initially
by the Manhattan Theater Club. On a roll, the M.T.C. was also the
source for another move-to-Broadway hit: playwright/drag star Charles
Busch’s compulsive comedy "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife."
Following the trend, Arthur Miller’s "The Ride Down Mount
however sourish and controversial, had its genesis downtown (after
its London premiere), as did the touching and naughty "Dirty
Maybe if fast flops like "Wrong Mountain," Elaine May’s
"Taller Than a Dwarf," and a misguided "Macbeth"
Kelsey Grammer, tested the waters first Off-Broadway, they would have
saved their investors millions.
Only three plays, the stunningly staged, beautifully acted and
"Copenhagen," the holocaust memoir "Rose," featuring
a tour de force performance by Olympia Dukakis, and a keenly acted
revival of "The Real Thing" — crossed the Atlantic from
the U.K. For a change, Broadway seems less like the West End than
it has been in recent years. It was a field day for old guard American
playwrights like Arthur Miller ("The Ride Down Mount Morgan"),
Sam Shepard ("True West"), and Neil Simon, whose dismal and
dismaying "The Dinner Party" is, nevertheless, packing them
in. It was encouraging to see new plays outnumber revivals by almost
two to one.
Of the 13 musicals, only four are revivals: the uplifting "The
Music Man," down and grungy "Jesus Christ Superstar,"
the exuberant "Riverdance," and the funnily retro "The
Rocky Horror Show." Three new musicals quickly bit the dust:
"James Joyce’s The Dead," and "The Wild Party." The
Disney machine evidently has what it takes to keep the incomparably
awful "Aida" alive. Only one other musical — the
appealing "The Full Monty" — became an unqualified smash.
Other musicals, like the bouncy "Swing," the joyfully
"Seussical," and the artfully glum "Jane Eyre" divided
the critics and may have a hard time showing a profit.
There was the big brouhaha over how to categorize "Contact."
Although dazzlingly choreographed by Susan Stroman, "Contact"
uses pre-recorded standards for its score, none of which are sung.
Yet it was officially designated a musical by last spring’s Tony award
committee. Never mind that Julie Taymor’s magical and imaginative
"The Green Bird" had original songs that were sung. Yet the
same group labeled it a play. Where’s the Supreme Court when we really
With 32 Broadway openings (19 plays and 13 musicals) opening during
the year, not including special engagements, a list of only my top
10 Broadway shows would not be a fair appraisal of the year’s best
theatrical fare. So I have included those Off-Broadway shows that,
by right of their excellence, cannot and will not be ignored. Here,
in no particular order, is my Ten Best of 2000:
and nuclear fission won the Tony award for Best Play last spring.
of important mathematical material also concerns itself with the
between a young woman, her father, and an inquiring young man could
get this season’s big Tony prize.
about two lost souls with a mutual infatuation with Mae West.
of brilliant choreographer/director Susan Stroman.
musical for the whole family is based on the stories of Dr. Seuss.
a man and woman sharing a train compartment is brilliantly acted by
Eileen Atkins and Alan Bates.
Lessner’s brand-new chamber musical, inspired by the true life
of Princeton mathematician Andrew J. Wiles to solve Fermat’s
theorem, is filled with charming numbers (pardon the pun).
1957 musical is sparked by Susan Stroman’s scene-stealing choreography
and the comforting performances of Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker.
legend Ty Cobb, in which three actors play the irrefutably unlikable
Cobb at different stages in his life.
of the 1997 British film about six unemployed factory workers who
decide that they can strip for money, is a good time with plenty of
Manhattan Theater Club must be doing something right.
Its current shows, "A Class Act," a new musical about the
life of composer and lyricist Edward Kleban (librettist for "A
Chorus Line"), and Alan Ayckbourn’s London hit "Comic
about a director who falls in love with a robot, both recipients of
excellent notices, are expected to have a future life on Broadway
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the hit musical "Big
(the Huckleberry Finn saga) is another Mark Twain tale "The
of Tom Sawyer." The new musical treatment is scheduled to open
at the Minskoff in April.
Choreographer and director Susan Stroman is guiding a musical based
on Mel Brooks’ film "The Producers," starring Nathan Lane
and Matthew Broderick toward an April opening at the St. James.
Watch out for the following musical revivals, also promised in April:
Roundabout’s all-star production of Stephen Sondheim’s
at the Belasco, "Bells Are Ringing" at the Plymouth, and
Street" at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. A hit at La
Jolla Playhouse this fall, "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is
in the wings for a theater to become available.
Expectations are high for the incoming new straight plays, including
Tom Stoppard’s "The Invention of Love," about the poet A.E.
Houseman, August Wilson’s "King Hedley II," and yet another
take on "Tallulah," starring Kathleen Turner.
Don’t they all sound like winners? What are the mathematical odds
on them all being hits? Will Fermat’s theorem help us predict?
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,
and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing
arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS
half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47) is open daily,
3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for
and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday matinees.
The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade Center,
is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 11
a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Matinee tickets are sold at this location on the
day prior to performance. Cash or travelers’ checks only; no credit
cards. Visit TKTS at www.tdf.org.
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