The Year Ahead

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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 3,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Simon Saltzman

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

million,

making getting hotel reservations difficult. With the Broadway

district

bustling with plays and musicals (a record-breaking 87 productions

this past season), including the ever-enticing and changing

entertainment

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

causing

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

Building,

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

engagement.

If New York society was mildly shocked by Mrs. Leslie Carter’s steamy

performance in "Zaza," they raised their eyebrows

conspicuously

during Clyde Fitch’s "Sapho," when the shapely Olga

Nethersole,

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,

"Sapho"

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

baritone

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

Adams’s

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

attraction

"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

cultivated

playgoers."

At the Garrick Theater, audiences are being attentive to Wm. M. Crane

as rancher turned matchmaker "David Harum." Speaking of

Garrick,

a revival of the old play "David Garrick" (no relation),

starring

Edward S. Willard is entertaining audiences at the Garden Theater.

There is still time for you to catch up with Broadway’s biggest

musical

hit of all time, "Floradora," at the Casino Theater. We

guarantee

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,"

"Cyrano

de Bergerac," and "La Dame aux Camelias," en Francais,

of course. But at $5 a seat, the same as the top price at the

Metropolitan

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

Eleanor

Robson are to be commended for stopping the performance cold and

asking

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

Broadway

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

Markley,

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

continuing

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,"

"Copenhagen,"

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

Morgan,"

however sourish and controversial, had its genesis downtown (after

its London premiere), as did the touching and naughty "Dirty

Blonde."

Maybe if fast flops like "Wrong Mountain," Elaine May’s

short-lived

"Taller Than a Dwarf," and a misguided "Macbeth"

starring

Kelsey Grammer, tested the waters first Off-Broadway, they would have

saved their investors millions.

Only three plays, the stunningly staged, beautifully acted and

intellectual

"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:

"Squonk,"

"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

disarmingly

appealing "The Full Monty" — became an unqualified smash.

Other musicals, like the bouncy "Swing," the joyfully

fantastical

"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

need it?

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:

Copenhagen. Michael Frayn’s engrossing play about

friendship

and nuclear fission won the Tony award for Best Play last spring.

Proof. David Auburn’s enigmatic play about the authorship

of important mathematical material also concerns itself with the

relationship

between a young woman, her father, and an inquiring young man could

get this season’s big Tony prize.

Dirty Blonde. Claudia Shear’s hilarious and poignant

comedy

about two lost souls with a mutual infatuation with Mae West.

Contact. Three witty gloriously danced dramas courtesy

of brilliant choreographer/director Susan Stroman.

Seussical. This bright, joyous, whimsical and wonderful

musical for the whole family is based on the stories of Dr. Seuss.

The Unexpected Man. Yasmina Reza’s clever drama about

a man and woman sharing a train compartment is brilliantly acted by

Eileen Atkins and Alan Bates.

Fermat’s Last Tango. Joshua Rosenblum and Joanne Sydney

Lessner’s brand-new chamber musical, inspired by the true life

struggle

of Princeton mathematician Andrew J. Wiles to solve Fermat’s

17th-century

theorem, is filled with charming numbers (pardon the pun).

The Music Man. This ebullient revival of Meredith Wilson’s

1957 musical is sparked by Susan Stroman’s scene-stealing choreography

and the comforting performances of Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker.

Cobb. Lee Blessing’s home run of a play about baseball

legend Ty Cobb, in which three actors play the irrefutably unlikable

Cobb at different stages in his life.

The Full Monty. The Americanization and musicalization

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

belly laughs.

Top Of Page
The Year Ahead

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

Potential,"

about a director who falls in love with a robot, both recipients of

excellent notices, are expected to have a future life on Broadway

this spring.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the hit musical "Big

River"

(the Huckleberry Finn saga) is another Mark Twain tale "The

Adventures

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

"Follies"

at the Belasco, "Bells Are Ringing" at the Plymouth, and

"42nd

Street" at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. A hit at La

Jolla Playhouse this fall, "Thoroughly Modern Millie" is

waiting

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?

Ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,

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

same-day,

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

Wednesday

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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