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THEATRE - April 2000

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Sunday April 30

  • STAGE WARS: Working on a play about the Third Reich, the actors begin arguing about whether what they're doing is a good idea or not. Even though the play is based on a well-presented book, putting Nazis onstage transforms it. "Like a British courtroom, a play tends to the adversarial, demanding that the jury identify with one side." The Observer 04/30/00

  • TRUTH IN LABELING: Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" - music theater or modern opera? Composer Ned Rorem sits down with Sondheim to debate the issue. New York Times 04/30/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

  • JECKIE JOUSTING: Composer Frank Wildhorn is the first American musical-theater composer in 22 years to have three shows running simultaneously on Broadway. He's been called the American Andrew Lloyd Webber, but while his loyal fans are fanatical in their love of his work, the critics haven't been kind. "Six million people have seen my stuff. I make no apologies for what I write. I just want to appeal to my generation. Look, if you're 45 or 50 years old, that means in the early '70s you were listening to the Stones or John Denver or Jim Croce. If nothing else, I represent the era I grew up in. I still write for pop artists all the time. I feel it's important to speak to audiences in a vocabulary that's comfortable to their ear." Orange County Register 04/30/00

Friday April 28

  • FINAL CURTAIN: First it was "Cats." Now "Miss Saigon" is calling it quits on Broadway, after a nine-year run. The big mega-musicals are in decline. New York Times 04/28/00 (one-time registration required for entry) 

  • REMEMBERING MERRICK: Producer David Merrick, who died this week, was a producer to be reckoned with.  "Merrick is the Bermuda Triangle in a Brooks Brothers suit. He lures writers and playwrights in like naval air squadrons, never to be seen or heard from again," said the writer and comic Stan Freberg, a survivor of a Merrick flirtation with one of his plays. Washington Post 04/28/00

  • SIGN OF THE TIMES: The use of British Sign Language has become increasingly popular and more widespread in English theaters in the past few years. But it's not just a matter of translating words and sentences - the grammar of sign is different. The translation becomes part of the performance. The Times (London) 04/28/00

Thursday April 27

  • THEATRE CRANK: Broadway producer David Merrick has died in London at the age of 87. Backstage 04/26/00

    • OR WAS HE 88? Merrick had a talent for producing, but also for making enemies. New York Times 04/27/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

Wednesday April 26

  • A MATTER OF INTELLIGENCE: Why is Lincoln Center balking at presenting Tom Stoppard's new play? Is it because they think New Yorkers are stupid? New York Observer 04/26/00

Tuesday April 25

  • BIGGER IS BETTER? Ownership of London's West End theaters have been changing hands at a frantic rate this year. Another case of Big Bad Business Consolidation - with all the predictable corporate blandishments to follow? Surprisingly not, reports one critic. The changes seem to be for the better. The Times (London) 04/25/00 
    • Who's Who in London's theater ownership sweepstakes. The Times (London) 04/25/00

Sunday April 23

  • MY MADNESS BEATS YOUR MADNESS: A hundred years ago mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria built an insanely expensive castle whose opulence was so frivolous, his ministers murdered him and dumped him into a lake. "Eleven decades later, another "madness" as great as Ludwig's has been built. Rising up from the shores of the Starnberger lake, beside Neuschwanstein castle, an entire theatre has been constructed for the sole purpose of staging 'Ludwig II, The Musical.' At a cost of £26 million, it is the most expensive musical in the world. Sunday Times (London) 04/23/00

  • THEATRE OF THE NEW: As the saying goes, the theater is always perfect before the curtain goes up. This spring, three visionary producers take a look at reinventing San Francisco theater. San Francisco Chronicle 04/23/00 

  • THEATRE UTILITY: For most of us, watching live performers act and sing is an infrequent luxury. Theater, like many of the other performing arts, long ago broke with its proletarian roots and assumed the gilded mantle of "culture." In an era of instant entertainment on the TV and the Internet, attending a play or a musical has become a special event, identified (unfairly, some might argue) with formality, cultural literacy, seriousness and, above all, disposable income. But theater, by its very nature, is about emotional outreach. Orange County Register 04/23/00

Friday April 21

  • CAN'T CONJURE UP A TENTH: After 18 years, the phenomenon that is "Cats" closes on Broadway. Now just isn't always forever. New York Times 04/21/00 (one-time registration required for entry) 

Thursday April 20

  • IT’S GOT MUSIC, BUT IS IT A MUSICAL? A musician’s union is protesting the eligibility of the hit dance show “Contact” to compete for the Tony Award for best musical. The show uses all recorded music instead of live musicians. New York Post 04/19/00

  • SHOWING A LITTLE FLESH: What does it take to shock people in the theater these days? Nudity? Certainly not. But celebrity nudity? That's another matter, as Kathleen Turner's brief turn in "The Graduate" in London is proving. "It is mystifying that, with the amount of public nudity there is, so many people would really think it worth their time and money for a quick glimpse of unclothed flesh glimmering out from the wings." Toronto Globe and Mail 04/20/00

  • GREAT EXPECTATIONS: What's up with London's National Theatre? "The National should be at the centre of the debate about what kind of society we are. It should also be dangerous and controversial." Sure it's produced some decent productions of late. But shouldn't it be "offering us blood, risk and adventure, and an inspirational lead to a theatre already sufficiently mired in caution?" The Guardian 04/19/00  

  • A LUDDITE ART: "As theater artists ponder the future of their form, they return again and again to the idea of longing - and to language that seems to have more to do with the bedroom than the stage. Technology, which promises to bring drastic changes to the arts in terms of style and substance, will affect theater, too, of course. But at root, theater is a Luddite art, one that rests on the same equation as in the days of Sophocles: The theatrical relationship between performer and audience, like the relationship of lovers, depends on being in the same place at the same time." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 04/17/00

  • THE CIRCLE OF LIFE: For the future of American musical theater, look at "The Lion King." For a long time Broadway musicals were defined by a very narrow New York aesthetic. "What Disney has astutely done is create a mythic story that is as accessible in London as it is Tokyo and could be one day in Timbuktu." Toronto Globe and Mail 04/15/00

  • LIFE AFTER THE LION: Robert Brustein chats with Julie Taymor about life after "The Lion King." Taymor's got a new play opening this week on Broadway. New York Times 04/16/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

  • WORKING CLASS COMPLAINTS: At a get-together in London to honor Michael Caine, the actors in attendance moan that the British theater is wracked with snooty class consciousness. Really? The Guardian 04/16/00 

  • NO DAMES ALLOWED: Dame Edna - aka Aussie Barry Humphries - has been snubbed by this year's Tony committee. The decision not to allow "Dame Edna: the Royal Tour" to compete in the two main categories - the season's best musical or best play - comes as a blow to a show that has been hailed as one of Broadway's more innovative offerings. It is also something of a slap to Dame Edna, and her real-life alter ego, whose unexpected success has been credited with breathing life into a sometimes lackluster season on the Great White Way. The Age (Melbourne) 04/14/00

  • BADLY NEGLECTED OR OUT OF DATE? Berlin has struggled mightily to rebuild since the wall fell. But some of the city's venerable arts institutions have felt stiffed in the change. Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, “once proudly funded by the GDR, has gone through poverty and 11 directors in less than ten years.” Decreased funding has caused ticket prices to soar, and as a result “the company lost its reputation as a theater of the people.” London Times 04/12/00

  • PASSION FOR CHANGE: Joe Penhall - one of the “angry young playwrights” who rejuvenated British theater in the mid-90s - will have his latest play produced at the Royal National Theatre. “There's a raging idealism at play in 'Blue/Orange,' which should satisfy those who lament the absence of political theater from the British stage.” The Guardian 04/12/00

  • AUSSIE ENVY: They’re friendly, beautiful, and have the world’s best beaches - now the Aussies also have a reputation for exporting the best cabaret singers in the business. On the eve of the MAC Awards (the cabaret world’s Tonys), the notoriously insular New York cabaret scene is rife with envy over the recent invasion of young Aussie performers.  Sydney Morning Herald 04/10/00  

  • WHATFORE ART THOU? There's a struggle going on for the soul of the American musical. Is it big, cartoonish and Elton? Or pseudo-operatic, arty and  Sondheim? Judging by recent track records, the Disneyites have it. But what succeeds in the long run... Boston Globe 04/09/00

  • OF THE FORMER - SUPERSTAR OR PASSING FANCY? For the moment, the invasion of British musical theater on Broadway has subsided. So let's take a whack at assessing Andrew Lloyd-Webber's influence on the genre. His "wide popular appeal has never been matched by high critical estimation. His music has been called derivative, or worse. Today, he is more likely to be taken to task for purveying middle-class sentimentalism (and sensationalism) at the expense of genuine artistic insight. Nor is he personally popular on Broadway, where he has long been seen as an unwelcome foreign interloper. But his effect on Broadway has been enormous." New York Times 04/09/00 (one-time registration required for entry)  

  • FROM THE LATTER: Audra McDonald is considered one of the true serious young theatrical artists, an actress and singer of equal strength who is willing to pursue ambitious new work, including operatic undertakings like LaChiusa's "Marie Christine," at a time when popular fare along the lines of Disney's new Broadway "Aida" would probably give her more exposure. Los Angeles Times 04/09/00

  • NEXT ON "OPRAH"... "At this year's Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, four out of the six mainstage offerings pivoted on incidents of gender warfare and sexual violence. Are hungry playwrights simply aping TV's lucrative obsession with these sociological phenomena? Or genuinely hoping to cast more light on them in a less-commercialized medium?" Seattle Times 04/09/00

  • THE DEATH OF EXPERIMENTAL THEATER? San Francisco has a long proud tradition of experimental theater. But "today, experimental theater is a back-burner topic. The old guard of the avant-garde no longer makes big waves, and a new generation of local innovators has not emerged to make its own fresh marks in the sand." San Francisco Chronicle 04/09/00

  • LEAVING HOME:  "Twenty-four years ago, John Jory created the institution that would make him the messiah of writers for the stage: the Humana Festival. Every year, it transforms Louisville into the mecca of the theatrical universe. Through the years, Humana has birthed more than 250 plays, including "The Gin Game," "Crimes of the Heart," "Agnes of God" and works by Lee Blessing, John Guare, Lanford Wilson, John Patrick Shanley and Tony Kushner." Now he's leaving to go teach in Seattle. Cleveland Plain Dealer 04/04/00
  • Mixed and adventurous fare at this year's Humana. Los Angeles Times 04/04/00
  • MOUSE-KE-THEATER: With Elton John's "Aida" an audience hit, Disney currently has the top three-grossing theater productions on Broadway. Other than that, the Great White Way's ticket sales have sagged a bit recently. Variety 04/04/00