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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Stage Addiction: When Broadway Feels The Winter Chill

- Here on the Great White Way, it's the moment in the theatre season when producers start asking themselves the toughest question of the year: can their show make it through the winter? It's a sad statistical fact that come January, audiences begin to diminish, preferring to stay warm and snug in their own homes until the spring Tony season. Two musicals have already made plans to shutter (Les Miserables and Spelling Bee) next month, and a large Off-Broadway production, Charles Busch's acclaimed Die Mommie Die!, just announced that it will close January 13th. (Many vultures are also circling The Drowsy Chaperone, which is slugging through Christmas with audiences below 50% capacity).

But the $64,000 Question isn't about older shows giving up the ghost, but which of the newer ones can last the distance....especially the six new non-musicals currently battling for the same dwindling batch of frostbitten theatregoers. Five of them have gotten good-to-great reviews (listed in order of buzzworthiness): August: Osage County, The Seafarer, Rock 'n' Roll, Is He Dead? and (as of yesterday) The Homecoming. The only poorly reviewed one, The Farnsworth Invention, is rumored to have Dreamworks/Paramount as a silent investor, so many pundits think it can weather the storm. And then there's two more about to begin previews, both with excellent pedigrees: David Mamet's November, starring Nathan Lane, and the MTC revival of Come Back Little Sheba, starring S. Epatha Merkerson (Law and Order). Since every industry professional I spoke to this week agreed that there's no way Broadway audiences will support eight straight plays -- an unheard-of feat not seen since the 1980's -- I have to ask the terrible, obvious question: what do you think will close first? Place your bets in the comments section, and take the poll at the end of this column to let us know what you think. (And don't think that just because Sheba, R'n'R and August are currently billed as "limited runs" doesn't mean they can't extend...or close early.)

- On the other side of the wintry coin, however, there is some good news: Marisa Tomei will keep the downtown smash Oh The Humanity alive for another month or so, until February 2nd. Roundabout's underground stealth hit, Speech and Debate, is getting extended all the way to February 24th...as is Chazz Palmintieri's solo variation of A Bronx Tale. That extension means A Catered Affair, the Harvey Fierstein-Faith Prince musical following it into the Walter Kerr Theatre, will now have barely a month to get ready for their first preview on March 25th. Sheesh!

- If you missed him last season, you can now see Tony nominee Raul Esparza, in all his icy austerity, slog through the otherwise marvelous revival of Sondheim's Company. It'll be broadcast to the entire universe via PBS' Great Performances on February 20th. It's not that he's bad, really. It's that he's, well...not good. Let the flaming comments begin!

- We adore our friends at What's Good/What Blows, and not just because they're the Walter Winchell of the showblog set. They report that while attending August: Osage County recently, the audience had more stars than the People's Choice Awards. WG/WB spotted Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Bernadette Peters, Paul Rudd, Mike Nichols, John Glover, John Stamos, and James Urbaniak...and wisely surmised "Clearly, there's a film in the works." Ya think? I'd be surprised if playwright Tracy Letts wasn't already in a studio-fueled bidding war, screenwriters strike or not. It's just too good to pass up.

- Hey, they've got a website...will they be Broadway's sleeper hit musical of 2008?

- Try to keep your lunch down while you watch the trailer for the new Mamma Mia movie; I love Meryl Streep, but sweet Jesus this looks like maximum suckage. (Perhaps this will help us control our gag reflex: Streep's gorgeous progeny, Mamie Gummer, is joining Laura Linney in the revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses this spring, along with Beautiful Thing's Ben Daniels and the delectable Kristine Neilsen as Madame de Volange. Scrumptious!)

- The best-of-2007 lists have started to trickle in: Time magazine likes August: Osage County, New York magazine got artsy and picked Black Watch out at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, and the Los Angeles Times liked Xanadu...which hasn't even played Los Angeles. (Yet.) Modern Fabulousity's own list -- including, for the first time, a jury of theatre bloggers non pareil -- will appear as part of our annual New Year's countdown, ModFabulous, just 9 days from now...

- Boy, that 2008 Leonard Bernstein Festival looks amazing, doesn't it? And when you factor in the just-announced Broadway revival of West Side Story (I guess Arthur Laurents heard my complaints last month), it's going to be a big year for Lennie fans. (Oh, and Laurents also let it drop that Gypsy will be moving into the St. James Theatre, just as soon as Grinch clears out.)

- And finally, a bittersweet farewell to our colleague and friend Peter DuBois, who is leaving his post as the Associate Director of The Public Theater to take over Boston's show palace, the Huntington Theatre Company. It's a great move for him, but the New York theatre community will be the worse for his leaving. Don't be a stranger...

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Blogger paul @ www.thezapping.com said...

I so wish i was in NYC right now - i would love to experience Christmas there. I bet it's freezing tho! Anyway, thanks for a year of great theatre updates - i come here for them before i go to any other site :) Next time i'm in nyc i'll get the pinkberrys!

12/18/07, 2:22 AM  
Blogger will g said...

Having seen the film version of Sheba recently, all I can say is oy vey. But doesn't MTC's subscriber base at least guarantee that it finishes out its scheduled run? I seem to recall a couple of their very badly reviewed Broadway productions that seemed to have no trouble staying afloat. So putting that one aside, isn't the choice *cough* Sorkin *cough* obvious?

12/18/07, 3:39 AM  
Blogger ModFab said...

You're right that it's rare when MTC shortens their planned runs...but it's not unheard of. I also think that FARNSWORTH's closing (first) is not a foregone conclusion...for instance, the financing behind IS HE DEAD is supposedly much shakier.

12/18/07, 10:12 AM  
Blogger will g said...

If Is He Dead? isn't a hit after those reviews, then I guess all bets are off.

12/18/07, 12:41 PM  
Blogger FleshPresser said...

I think it's sad that it's a foregone conclusion that the shows won't make it through the winter.

I'm not being naive, of course... I understand the logic behind it completely.

Just makes me, as always, sad for Broadway. With the exceptions of Sheba and Homecoming, am I right in saying that at least these are all ORIGINAL productions hitting the Great White Way? Good, bad or indifferent, I may just cash out grandma's old savings bonds and spend the winter in NYC supporting artists and producers who dare to at least ATTEMPT to bring something original to Broadway.

12/18/07, 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really want to see A:OC but can't afford to come up until spring... so please use all your power to make sure it doesn't close!! That and Xanadu!

And Mamma Mia does look questionable... but they have some great people in the cast, so it can't be all bad... I hope...

12/18/07, 2:56 PM  

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