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THEATRE - April 2002

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Tuesday April 30

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE BACKS OFF CONTROVERSIAL NOBLE PLAN: A week after director Adrian Noble announced he was leaving the Royal Shakespeare Company, the RSC says it may not demolish its theatre in Stratford after all. The controversial £100 million plan was pushed for by Noble and came in for heavy criticism. BBC 04/29/02

  • LONDON THEATRE CHURNING: Is the London theatre world in turmoil? "Noble's announcement comes at a time when Britain's noncommercial theater sector is in a volatile state, with artistic directors coming and going with dizzying speed. At the National Theatre, Trevor Nunn will be succeeded by Nicolas Hytner next March. At the Donmar, Sam Mendes will give way to Michael Grandage in November. And Michael Attenborough is succeeding Nicholas Kent and Ian McDiarmid at the Almeida." Los Angeles Times 04/30/02
  • SPECULATION ABOUT NOBLE SUCCESSOR: How about Micahel Boyd? "As an associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1996, he has been responsible for a remarkable series of hard-edged, hard-hitting and sparkily energetic productions." But mention of his name to RSC insiders elicits a raised eyebrow. The Telegraph (UK) 04/30/02

YOUTH CRUSADE: London's National Theatre has been on a mission to attract younger audiences. Under director Trevor Nunn's constant drumbeat on the issue, "the proportion of NT patrons aged 25 or under has risen from a woeful 6 per cent in 1998 to about 13 per cent today." Now the launch of an ambitious (and expensive) initiative to further address the issue. A "five-month season opening this week will see 13 world premieres staged in the all-new Loft theatre and a modified Lyttelton, twinned spaces created at a cost of £1.2 million." The Times (UK) 04/30/02

Monday April 29

POLITICALLY SPEAKING: "The rise and fall of political theater - and politics in all the arts - can be seen as a cycle that peaks during times of social unrest." Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul is a political play made hot by the headlines of the day. "Will we now see a rebirth of plays that speak to the state of the world and not just the problems of the individual? Or are plays such as Homebody/Kabul' anomalies for audiences that still would rather be entertained than informed?" San Jose Mercury News 04/28/02

AFTER THE FALL: Adrian Noble's departure from the Royal Shakespeare Company was probably the inevitable result of the controversy of his bold plans for the company, revealed over the past year. But "whoever takes over from him at the RSC - and if Noble is convinced that his plans are visionary, how can he not want to see them through? - will have to deal with the acrimony, mess and uncertainty left by someone else's plans. It'll be arduous. It'll also be a terrific opportunity. The RSC must retrench and reconsider itself. It should think about what's gone wrong: why, so often over the past few years, its productions have been verbally indistinct and visually profuse - the opposite of what the RSC should be offering. And it should think about what went right." The Observer (UK) 04/28/02

Sunday April 28

APPRECIATING STEPHEN: Stephen Sondheim is "widely acknowledged to be the greatest living theater lyricist-composer. But that understanding continues to evolve with revivals of his dense, richly textured and challenging productions, the majority of which neither succeeded commercially on Broadway nor, for that matter, received unqualified critical praise." On the eve of a massive retrospective of his work in Washington DC, some of the theatre artists most strongly identified with his work talk about his influence." Los Angeles Times 04/28/02

JUST FOR OLD TIMES? "There are currently 11 revivals and 24 new shows on Broadway; off-Broadway, there are six revivals and 28 new shows." Is this too many revivals? "Why is there this hunger for new plays or new musicals, so that revival virtually becomes a dirty word? Unlike, say, classical music, the theater is not a fuddy-duddy art devoted fundamentally to fresh interpretation of a glorious past. And yet our own glorious past is ingloriously neglected. If you have never seen Hamlet before, then Hamlet is not a revival but a new experience - in effect, a new play." New York Post 04/28/02

SHOW AS STAR: The recent casting flap over replacing Nathan Lane in The Producers was a clue to the show's need to keep the show going without bankable stars. "The goal at The Producers is to make the show the star. It must have been problematic when Lane and Broderick were perceived as essential to the big-ticket experience. After all, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Cats have packed the seats for decades without audiences caring who was playing what." Newsday 04/28/02

Friday April 26

TRENDS: Louisville's Humana Festival is America's foremost showcase for new plays. It's generally a bad idea to look for themes among the assembled offerings. On the other hand... Boston Phoenix 04/25/02

HIGH-STAKES MISCASTING: The Producers is a Broadway money machine. So when the show needed to replace Nathan Lane in one of the lead roles it could have had any actor it chose. Instead - disaster - a bad choice and a PR blowup. There are plenty of explanations for why it happened. But the incident shows how much of an impact the right (or wrong) actor can have on a show. Chicago Tribune 04/26/02

Thursday April 25

BRINGING IN THE YOUNG: "New audiences are the Holy Grail of theatreland and a lot of people both in London and in the regions expend a great deal of effort in the quest to find them." That's why theatre people are looking at London's Garrick Theatre, where young people are turning out for a new play. "It's only when you sit in an audience full of people under the age of 26 that you realise how rare it is." The Telegraph (UK) 04/24/02

LOOKING FOR THE UNION LABEL: The controversial national tour of last year's Broadway revival of The Music Man is rolling into Southern California, where it will continue to attract protests over its use of non-union actors and musicians.For the unions, this is an important battle, since the show is the first national tour of a Broadway production, a designation that traditionally comes with a union label. Los Angeles Times 04/25/02

ANGLA FRANCA: This year's Montreal and Quebec City international theatre festivals offer something not often seen on Quebec stages in recent years - English. "Partly that's just coincidence and partly it's due to the growing use of English as a lingua franca in Europe, but there are also signs here of blossoming relationships between Quebeckers and artists in the rest of Canada." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/24/02

FENDING OFF ROUTINE: It takes "about 50 performances" in a role before an actor can begin to relax in it. "But eventually the routine of performing every night will start to transfer the experience of acting from that of an adventure to that of a job. It may take time but it'll happen. And it's then that a decent actor starts to repay the money invested in him." The Guardian (UK) 04/24/02

NOBLE'S LEAVING, BUT WHY? Some are suggesting that Adrian Noble is leaving the Royal Shakespeare Company because he is having success with a new musical in London's West End. Noble says that's not true. Others are betting that he simply got sick of all the criticism that comes with the RSC's top job. Noble says that's not it either. So why did he resign? Noble's not saying, apparently. BBC 04/25/02

Wednesday April 24

NOBLE QUITTING RSC: Adrian Noble, who drew the wrath of theatre fans across the UK with his plan to demolish the Royal Shakespeare Company's home in Stratford-upon-Avon and replace it with a modern theatre complex, is resigning from his position as the RSC's artistic director. Noble was a controversial figure from the moment he assumed the top position at the world's most famous Shakespeare company in 1991, but few would deny that he is a skilled director and shrewd businessman. BBC 04/24/02

THE LITTLE THEATRE THAT COULD: London's Bush Theatre is turning 30, and it has a track record as one of the best small theatres in town. "What exactly is the Bush's secret? One simple answer is its loyalty to writers. The Bush also has a happy knack of catching writers at a formative stage of their careers. I suspect that the Bush's sustained creativity over 30 years also has a lot to do with the cramped, confined space itself: it both induces audience complicity and releases the imagination of artists." The Guardian (UK) 04/23/02

FINDING SHAKESPEARE'S HOUSE: "Remains of a timber framed house which Shakespeare may have built, and lived in with other actors from his company, have been found within a stone's throw of the site of his Globe theatre, and just round the corner from the modern replica where the 438th anniversary of his birth will be commemorated today." The Guardian (UK) 04/23/02

Tuesday April 23

UK'S NATIONAL THEATRE MAKES A PLAY FOR YOUTH: "You can say a lot of things about the National Theatre, but you cannot say it's sexy. In the battle of the theatrical brands, it has lost out in recent years to younger, hipper, more compact theatres to which the film stars and younger audiences have thirstily gravitated. In the twilight of his reign, Trevor Nunn is being seen to do something about this. For a five-month season which calls itself Transformations, the National is funking itself up." The Telegraph (UK) 04/23/02

SINGULAR SENSATION: Suzan-Lori Parks has had a big month, winning a Pulitzer and having her play open on Broadway. But it wasn't overnight success. "At 38, Ms. Parks has been at the drama thing for a long time, ever since, as a Mount Holyoke student, her creative-writing teacher encouraged her to write plays. She wanted to write novels. Still, when your teacher is James Baldwin and he tells you you should be writing plays, well, you find yourself writing plays." Dallas Morning News 04/23/02

I WRITE THE PLAYS: Saddam Hussein, whose novel Zabibah and the King, was published a year ago to "rave reviews from the local press," is having the book produced as a play in Iraq's National Theatre. It is billed as "a tragic tale of a ruler who falls in love with an unhappily married woman." Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/23/02

Monday April 22

FIGURING OUT LONG WHARF: New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre is a major American regional theatre. Doug Hughes, the theatre's director until he unexpectedly resigned last June in controversy, helped raise the profile of the theatre and upped its subscriptions and attendance. But new director Gordon Edelstein, arriving from Seattle's ACT Theatre, has his job cut out for him... The New York Times 04/22/02

FLOPS SO GOOD THEY'RE BAD: There's a thriving market in recordings of Broadway flop productions. "The train-wreck appeal of seeing the mighty fall is enormous. Gloating aside, you can also better appreciate artistic triumphs if you know failures. And then there are the backstage stories. Flops have particularly rich ones, and hearing their music in that context can give them a dramatic new dimension." Philadelphia Inquirer 04/21/02

QUALITY ROAD SHOW: It's generally accepted that touring companies of Broadway shows are a notch or two (or more) below the quality of what you can see in New York. But producers of The Lion King are hyping their touring company as better than the New York version. Could it be so? Denver Post 04/22/02

Sunday April 21

WHATEVER - IT SELLS TICKETS: "Nudity in theater can wear many different masks. It can be revolutionary or regressive, powerful or pointless. It can be comic, erotic, heroic, subversive, insightful or just plain god-awful. It may be as old as the art of theater itself, a vestigial remnant of ancient tribal rituals designed to sublimate or stoke primitive passions." Or it may be a shameless attempt to draw a crowd desperate to see Kathleen Turner in the buff. Los Angeles Times 04/21/02

SOME COLUMNS JUST BEG FOR ANGRY LETTERS: "It has been noted that the performing arts are the ones most suffering from the age divide. The audience for conventional theatre is dying and not being replaced. This does not trouble me much, as most theatre is simply dumb. It does not mean that art is dying... I do not know who would be better equipped to appreciate plays: old people, with their far longer attention span and patience for the static, or young people, who can actually hear. The ideal audience may not exist." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 04/21/02

Friday April 19

KILLING THE PUPPETMASTER: "The oldest puppet theatre in Britain, which trained generations of puppeteers who went on to shows like the Muppets and Spitting Image, will close its doors in two weeks, and may shut forever at the end of the year." The Guardian (UK) 04/18/02

KNIGHT PLAYWRIGHT: Alan Ayckbourn is one of England's most popular playwrights. He's "an odd mix. He plays the relaxed, easy-going egalitarian but, at the same time, he is clearly keen on his K (Though people singularly fail to cope with it. The milkman said: 'Congratulations on your knighthood, Mr Ayckbourn') and I reckon his six honorary degrees and two honorary fellowships are important to his sense of self-esteem." The Telegraph (UK) 04/18/02

Thursday April 18

CRADLE OF TALENT: London's Bush Theatre is turning 30, and its list of alumni talent is formidable. "For three decades and more than 350 productions, this tiny powerhouse of British theatre (100 seats, all of them uncomfortable) on unsalubrious Shepherd's Bush Green in west London, has developed so much nascent talent that, by rights, it should be called the National Theatre." The Telegraph (UK) 04/18/02

NOW THAT'S DEVOTION: When one thinks of the world's great theatre centers, one might be forgiven for overlooking Albania. But the tiny European country's National Theater sells out nearly every show, despite the poverty of its public and a building so dilapidated that hardy audience members carry umbrellas to deflect the rainwater that leaks through the ceiling. The government would love to fix up the National, but no one knows where the money would come from. Minneapolis Star Tribune (AP) 04/18/02

Wednesday April 17

ARE BRITISH THEATRES RACIST? A new report suggests it. "Of 2,009 staff jobs in English theatre only 80 were held by black or Asian workers at the most recent count. Only 16 out of 463 board members were black or Asian. A survey of 19 organisations in a range of art forms in 1998 found that 6% of staff were black and Asian, but that more than half of those worked in catering or front-of-house areas. Ethnic minorities are variously estimated to form 10 to 15% of the population as a whole." The Guardian (UK) 04/17/02

WHY THE PRODUCERS FIRED HENRY GOODMAN: Goodman is a good actor. So why did he get canned from a great role in Broadway's The Producers? Perhaps because Nathan Lane made the part so well. "Lane is fat, lovable, vastly camp and totally harmless - an American cross between Elton John and Frankie Howerd. Goodman could hardly be more different. As London audiences who saw his recent Olivier-winning Shylock will recall, he oozes danger, cruelty and anger. Lane's humour is comfortingly white and cuddly; Goodman's is disconcertingly black and biting." Casting is, as they say, an inexact science. The Telegraph (UK) 04/17/02

  • GOODMAN SPEAKS: "I think you're dealing with the pressure of Broadway, dealing with an industry where just giving a good performance isn't enough. I respect that they're dealing with an industry of millions of dollars on the line, and when you are, you start dealing with people as commodities, not as people. This is as much about the boardrooms as it is about the boards." The New York Times 04/16/02

Tuesday April 16

A STAR IS BORN: "Brad Oscar, who spent a year filling in for Nathan Lane in the Broadway musical The Producers, was abruptly handed the starring role of Max Bialystock Sunday night. The powers behind the show had concluded that Lane's replacement, British actor Henry Goodman, wasn't working out and dismissed him only four weeks into his contract. Oscar will appear opposite Steven Weber, who took over for Matthew Broderick." Washington Post 04/16/02

Monday April 15

TROUBLE PRODUCING: Producers of The Producers have fired Henry Goodman, the London stage star whom they had chosen to replace Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock in the show. "Creator Mel Brooks and director Susan Stroman, along with the producers of the show, were 'unhappy with the lack of progress Henry was making in the role'." New York Post 04/14/02 

Sunday April 14

MAY WE SUGGEST 'THE PANIC ROOM'? "Great composers are in short supply. Top-flight lyricists are an endangered species. Male singing stars are as elusive as four-leaf clovers. But even in a challenging age for new talent, the Broadway musical can still count on one endlessly renewable resource: the movies." The New York Times 04/14/02

Friday April 12

GOING NEGATIVE: It's not just positive reviews that sell tickets. Sometimes it helps to go negative. Reviews for the Broadway production of The Smell of the Kill were generally brutal last week. Particularly scathing was Bruce Weber's New York Times piece. So producers took the review and republished it in an ad in the Times, mocking Weber and hoping to generate a little buzz. Backstage 04/11/02

BROADWAY REVIVAL: By most accounts, it's been a pretty lackluster season on Broadway. But heading into the home stretch, a new group of plays has just opened and things are suddenly looking up. Newsday 04/12/02

Thursday April 11

A LAW TO HELP PLAYWRIGHTS: A law is being proposed in the US Congress that would give playwrights greater bargaining rights with producers. Currently, "playwrights must negotiate for themselves with unions or other groups to get plays produced. They commonly are offered take-it-or-leave-it contracts. Because playwrights own copyrights to their work, they have been considered since the 1940s independent contractors to producers instead of employees with collective bargaining rights. The new legislation would allow them to negotiate and enforce contracts with producers collectively." Nando Times (AP) 01/10/02

WHEN ROBERT ASKED LARRY: Robert Brustein asked his friend Larry Gelbart to write a new adaptation of Lysistrata. Gelbart agreed, but in the script he delivered "the sexual references were so voluminous and repetitious that they put off several of the participants" so Brustein pulled the script . "Gelbart declared himself a victim of political correctness, and now, amid bruised feelings on all sides, there are two competing musical adaptations of Lysistrata moving ahead, one by Mr. Brustein in Cambridge and one by Mr. Gelbart in New York." The New York Times 04/11/02 

ACTORS UNION URGES BOYCOTT: Actors Equity union has asked its members to boycott the annual National Broadway Touring Awards this year. "The union has indicated it is unhappy with the league's policy of not differentiating between Equity and non-Equity productions on the road," and non-union touring productions are particularly rankling the union this year. Backstage 04/10/02

ATTACKING RALPH: Ralph Richardson's archive of personal letters includes evidence of a nasty fight with novelist Graham Greene. "The row was over Richardson's performance as a sculptor during rehearsals of Greene's 1964 play Carving a Statue. The play flopped, ending the novelist's 10 year run of successes in the West End. Even in rehearsals, the archive discloses, Greene blamed Richardson for not speaking the lines properly or understanding the part." The Guardian (UK) 04/09/02 

SIR ELTON, THEATRE EXEC: Theatre-lover Elton John has been appointed chairman of the trust that runs London's historic Old Vic Theatre. "Opened in 1818, the Southwark theatre is regarded as being one of the most important in London. 'It is hoped that Sir Elton's involvement will 'energise and enthuse the theatre-going public.' The Theatre Trust predicted that Sir Elton would lead the Old Vic into a new phase of development and growth, paying tribute to his 'profound love and respect' of theatre." BBC 04/11/02

Wednesday April 10

ANOTHER SCOTTISH THEATRE DOWN: Glasgow has seen its third theatre company close this year because of lack of money. Whose fault is it? Maybe the Scottish Arts Council. "All three companies were losers in the most recent round of three-year funding applications, making their positions unsustainable in a market-place allegedly controlled not by the work produced, but by boxes ticked." Glasgow Herald 04/09/02

GOING YOUNG: London's National Theatre has been slammed for not appealing to youngr audiences. To address the charge, the theatre is "staging 13 world premieres, building a studio theatre, converting conventional auditoriums, and giving permission to take a beer into the show." The Guardian (UK) 04/10/02

APPRECIATING THE ELIZABETHANS: Shakespeare’s London had 200,000 inhabitants, and their craving for drama was extraordinary. One company, the Admiral’s Men, staged 55 new plays among the 728 performances they gave in the capital between 1594 and 1597. More than 300 men wrote for the theatre during the so-called English Renaissance; we know the titles of more than 1,500 of the plays composed between 1590 and the closing of the theatres by the Puritans in 1640. That so far surpasses the output per theatregoing head today that the only comparison is with television." The Times (UK) 04/10/02

CHANGING THE WORLD WITH THEATRE: Drama teacher Rick Garcia believes theatre has the power to change people. So he's gone to work in the most-forgotten part of Austin Texas to work with kids. He's "chosen this industrial hinterland where theatre is hardly in the community's vernacular to stage his grand experiment in education and the arts. 'There is art,' says Garcia of the neighborhood, 'but it's not the biased impression of what a European Anglo educated mind perceives as art'." Austin Chronicle 04/09/02

Tuesday April 9

PARKS' EXCELLENT YEAR: As Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog wins this year's Pulitzer for drama, the play opens on Broadway. It's been a good year for Parks. She won the 2001 MacArthur Fellowship, known by many as a “genius grant,” and the 2000 Guggenheim Fellowship. 04/08/02 

  • THEATRE'S GOOD FORTUNE: "The two lonely, rowdy brothers who make up the entire cast of characters of Suzan-Lori Parks's thrilling comic drama give off more energy than the ensembles of "42nd Street," "The Lion King" and "The Graduate" combined." The New York Times 04/08/02
  • JUST A GOOD TIME: "This is by far Parks' most readily communicable work so far. It is not a play you learn from, but an evening you experience - and enjoy." New York Post 04/08/02 
  • LESS THE SECOND TIME AROUND: "Something essential has been lost in the transition from the intimate thrust stage of the Public to the gaping proscenium of the Ambassador Theatre." 04/08/02

Sunday April 7

BRITISH ON BROADWAY: It isn't as if Americans don't perform their own work, but Broadway would be a much poorer place if the Brits didn't take such a "profound" interest in things American "Two classics of the American theater are now big hits on Broadway: Arthur Miller's The Crucible and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! They are staged by the current and former artistic directors of London's Royal National Theatre." Boston Globe 04/07/02

A LITTLE DIRECTION: Directing a play is the result of a synthesis of experience. "I find the difficulty in going to plays is that the very good ones don't teach me anything because they catch you up - you're completely swept up into the experience. You learn more from the second-rate plays, because your critical faculties switch on and you think about what the actors are doing and not doing." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/06/02

FADED PROMISE: This current Broadway season began on a note of giddy celebration. With last year's The Producers proving that there's gold and greatness to be had, a giant wave of shows was announced for the 2001-02 season. As May 1, the Tony deadline, approaches, the season limps to its conclusion, with anemic offerings in the categories of new musical, new play and musical revival." Hartford Courant 04/07/02

Friday April 5

NON-UNION IF IT'S CHEAPER: A non-union production of The Music Man has been running into protests in the cities it plays. The actors union complains that "the Broadway show is charging Broadway ticket prices, while not paying performers Broadway salaries, but rather lower nonunion rates." Theatres that book the show say "they respect Equity and the other unions. But their primary responsibility is bringing quality product to their faithful patrons. For that reason, they'll book both Equity and non-Equity productions." Backstage 04/05/02

SHAKESPEARE WITHOUT ALL THOSE WORDS: A Georgian director is presenting a version of Hamlet that takes removes the words. "Our ambition is to go straight to the core of Shakespeare's language and capture the images within the words." Reminded that some in the audience might not get the message, director Paato Tsikurishvili had an answer ready: "I recommend that you read the play before the performance." Backstage 04/05/02

Tuesday April 3

CUTTING ROOM CRUELTY: Ah, what actors do to make a living and further their careers. This one landed a lucrative TV commercial - big exposure, lots of repeats, and terrific money. But just as he was checking out those £4,000 Antarctic cruises, the director called and... The Guardian (UK) 04/03/02

Monday April 1

DISAPPEARING BLACK THEATRE: "Gone is the heyday of institutional black theater, the rich years after Ward's famous 1966 New York Times piece - American Theatre: For Whites Only? - inspired the Ford Foundation to award a $1.2 million startup grant for the NEC. Nationally, the number of black theater companies has dwindled from more than 250 in the the early 1980s to about 50; in South Florida, founder-led black theaters in Fort Lauderdale (the Vinnette Carroll Theatre) and West Palm Beach (the Quest Theatre) have vanished, leaving only the 31-year-old M Ensemble to tackle serious black theater on a consistent basis." Miami Herald 03/31/02

BIGTIME THEATRE, LITTLETIME TOWN: "Nowhere else in the United States is the concept of repertory theater honored as it is at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 'The original dream and hope of the regional theater movement was to maintain standard repertory companies doing classical work. Oregon is now the exemplar of that model. A lot of other theaters look at them with great envy." Los Angeles Times 03/31/02

TROUBLE WITH SHAKESPEARE: The Royal Shakespeare Company is in turmoil. "There's mounting disapproval about seismic changes unrolling under the aegis of Adrian Noble, the RSC's artistic director and chief executive. One of the most worrying indicators about the dangerous state of play at the Royal Shakespeare Company, one third of whose income comes from nearly £13 million of taxpayers' money, is that after a summer, winter and now a spring of discontent, none of its many critics on the inside will go on the record. It's not hard to see why." The Observer (UK) 03/31/02