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THEATRE - May 2002

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Friday May 31

BROADWAY DOWN: After a decade of solid gains, Broadway saw a decline in business for the season just ended. "The total taken for the entire season stood at $642.5m (438m), $22.9m less than in the previous year. The year 2000-1, by contrast, had seen a big yearly increase of 10.4%. The number of people buying tickets dropped almost one million to 10.9 million, below the 11 million mark for the first time since 1995-96." BBC 05/30/02

HANDICAPPING THE TONYS: Who's going to win at this Sunday's Tony Awards? When the nominees were announced, it seemed like a wide open field. But "in the last week, a strong consensus has formed as to who will win come Sunday night at 8, when Broadway's elite will gather at Radio City Music Hall to hand out some precious silver-plated tchotchkes and draw the curtain on the 2001-2 season." The New York Times 05/31/02

  • ON THE OTHER HAND... "A highly unscientific survey of 15 Tony voters (there are 731 in all, all theater insiders), indicates that the races in several categories have tightened up considerably in the past few days." New York Post 05/31/02

Thursday May 30

POWERED BY COKE: London's West End theatres are alive with references to cocaine. "With so many coke references in front of you in the theatre, you begin to wonder just what's going on backstage. For centuries, acting - like journalism - was one of the great drinking professions. Actors and alcohol have traditionally gone together like Burton and Taylor. Yet the eclipse of the stage-drunk by the stage-junkie suggests something has changed." The Telegraph (UK) 05/30/02

SPEAKING OF SUCCESS: It's not just playwrights and directors who make an actor great in a role. The right vocal coach can transform a performance. Patsy Rodenburg is the top vocal coach in the UK, the voice behind some of the country's great actors. "While all theatrical voice coaches aim to expand the way actors speak both physically and mentally, Rodenburg has a reputation for radical methodology. In life, as in her books, she seems driven by a rigorous curiosity about how every aspect of an actor's physicality, mental state, and even elements in their personal history, can erupt both positively and negatively in the way they speak." London Evening Standard 05/28/02

THE MAN WHO'S SUCCEEDING BRUSTEIN: Director Robert Woodruff is taking over the artistic directorship of American Repertory Theatre, succeeding the legendary Robert Brustein, who is leaving after 23 years. What can ART's subscribers expect? "A good guess would be yet more envelope-pushing interpretations of classics. At least that's what's suggested by the most recent Woodruff-directed project in Cambridge." Boston Magazine 05/02

Wednesday May 29

STRATFORD'S GOLDEN YEAR: Canada's Stratford Theatre Festival redefined what theatre could be outside of the world's urban centers, and this year, it turns fifty. The sleepy farming town in western Ontario has become Canada's answer to Cannes, and the golden anniversary is making headlines across the country. Edmonton Journal 05/29/02

  • IT COULD'VE BEEN FLASHIER: Stratford's 50th anniversary is the type of national event that should have been celebrated with champagne corks popping, crowds of delirious fans, and plenty of self-congratulation. "Instead, Monday's bash had all the glamour and excitement of a community centre fundraiser. The mood was feel-good in a peculiarly restrained, understated lords-and-ladies-of-Upper-Canada-on-their-best-behaviour kind of way." Toronto Star 05/29/02

Tuesday May 28

AN ODE TO CHICAGO: Chicago has more than 200 theatre companies. This year's Tony award nominations were dominated by productions which had their start in Chicago. "Theater in Chicago has reached critical mass after growing steadily in size and quality since the 1980's. The Tony nominations are only the latest indication of how important this city has become as a feeder of plays not just to New York but also to other cities and countries." The New York Times 05/28/02

BACK FROM THE FRINGE: There are plenty of fringe theatre productions that pass into oblivion after they finish their first run. Now a fringe fan is capturing fringe theatre on digital cameras, recording productions for history. "He hopes to build enough interest to persuade chains such as Hollywood Video or Blockbuster to carry them, and eventually to move into cable TV." Los Angeles Times 05/27/02

Monday May 27

PLAYING SWEET: It wasn't too many years ago that playwright Peter Gill was bitter and frustrated by British theatre. "Now 62, the Cardiff-born writer and director, who made his name at the Royal Court in the 1960s, is enjoying the kind of exposure that is generally accorded only to the very young or very dead." The Guardian (UK) 05/27/02

Sunday May 26

THE ASIAN MOZART? Andrew Lloyd Webber believes he's found the composer who could rejuvenate musical theatre. A R Rahman is a sensation in his native India. "His scores have been composed for some of India's most successful films, including Dil Se and Lagaan, which was nominated for best foreign film in this year's Oscars. With sales of more than 100 million, his albums have sold more than Britney Spears and Madonna combined." Now Lloyd Webber has asked him to write a musical and is producing it in London's West End. The Telegraph (UK) 05/25/02

BACK TO THE PAST: More and more theatre artists are looking back to ancient Greece and Rome. "We are seeing so many playwrights build new works from a common source of history, myth and tradition. It is as if they and we, their audience are on a scavenger hunt through the past. We are looking for treasure in the form of cultural continuity; old griefs and pleasures felt again and more clearly; revelations about who we are and whether we can (or cannot) change." The New York Times 05/26/02

IF HARTFORD'S TOO CLOSE... why not Seattle for that out-of-town big-budget Broadway-bound musical? Producers of Hairspray have brought the show for a tryout before heading to New York. "The fact that Seattle is auditioning for this role now attests to the changing nature of Broadway production and to the city's burgeoning cultural profile." Seattle Times 05/26/02

Friday May 24

TONYS DIRTY TRICKS: Someone has been writing nasty letters to Tony Awards judges, pretending to be Tony-nominated actor Gregg Edelman. "Last week, at least four prominent Tony voters, including Into the Woods composer Stephen Sondheim, received nasty letters, ostensibly written by Edelman, accusing them of failing to appreciate the actor's talents and of bad-mouthing him behind his back. The letters were printed on stationery with Edelman's name in capital letters at the top and were signed 'G.E.'." Edelman says he didn't write them. New York Post 05/24/02

Thursday May 23

A GOVERNOR PILEDRIVES ARTS FUNDING: Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, he of the pro wrestling background and snarling visage, has used his veto pen to wipe out tens of millions of dollars of arts funding from this year's state budget. Hardest hit is the nationally renowned Guthrie Theater, which had been scheduled to receive $24 million for a new theater on the Mississippi riverfront, and will now receive nothing at all. Ventura claims that government funding of the arts is a slippery slope (though he just signed a bill funding a $330 million ballpark for the local baseball team,) while the Guthrie's artistic director calls the governor destructive and dictatorial. Minneapolis Star Tribune 05/23/02

UGLY SMELL: Producers of Tony-nominated musical Sweet Smell of Success think the press has been unfair. "They've fired off a letter to Tony voters that takes theater columnists from the New York Times, the New York Post and Variety to task for 'going out of their way to undermine Sweet Smell of Success at every opportunity." New York Post 05/22/02

IN SEARCH OF FAME: There is an increasingly popular strain of show that exists as much for its ever-changing cast of famous players as for the show itself. "These shows exist on regular injections of famous names. They change their casts like a drag act changes frocks - each one just as fabulous, just as glittery as the one before - and interest is as much in what the next change will be as in the show itself." The Scotsman 05/20/02

Wednesday May 22

ONLY BROADWAY: Broadway has rebounded in a big way since the dark days after September 11. The help Broadway got from the city in the form of ticket purchases and financial assistance was welcomed. But Off-Broadway and other performing groups were not included in the bailout, and hard feelings remain. The New York Times 05/22/02

WHAT'S WRONG WITH BRITISH THEATRE: Director Declan Donnellan is back in London to stage Tony Kushner's new play, but he's got some misgivings about the local arts scene. "People involved in theatre in Britain are mistreated and misunderstood. 'We are quite cruel to artists. Even the way we call them 'luvvies' is a put-down. There is an envy of the artist that is dressed up as anger in this country. Look at the way that the theatre only makes the front news when it's bad news or something goes wrong at the RSC. I still think of Britain as home, but it is quite hard for it to be'." The Guardian (UK) 05/22/02

THOROUGHLY UNINSPIRED: How did we end up with Thoroughly Modern Millie as the favorite to win this year's Best Musical Tony? "The musical season was generally as unreliable as the year in precipitation. There were only seven new tuners, and only five of them had original songs, so when it came down to picking the four nominees for best score, basically 80 percent of the shows that opened got a nod! (Anybody want to write a musical? We'll have plaques up the wazoo.)" Village Voice 05/21/02

Tuesday May 21

HOW TO START A THEATRE WITH NO MONEY DOWN: "In the insular world of Toronto's theatre community, Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford are outsiders - but outsiders who have emerged as important players." With no government funding, they've started their own theatre and become a refuge for small companies. National Post 05/20/02

SELLOUT: An Australian critic is tired of the kind of theatre he's been seeing lately. "Authenticity in the theatre is up for grabs these days. Commercialism and homogeny, not passion and difference, are turning some sections of the mainstream theatre into a sterile playground, if there can be such a thing. So many productions are predictable and lacking in nerve." Sydney Morning Herald 05/21/02

Sunday May 19

THE MONSTER THAT ATE BROADWAY: When the giant, traditionally West Coast-based media companies began making a move on the New York theater scene several years back, independent producers shrieked that the invasion would mean the end of meaningful theater in the city. "Their concerns may have been overstated, at least as to how rapidly they might be displaced, but the reality is that major companies have settled in and altered the landscape. The resurgent interest in family-oriented fare... the new look of Times Square; the sustained appeal of Broadway to tourists: these can all be traced in some measure to the commitment large companies have made to the theater district. New York Times 05/19/02

SPRAWLING TOWARDS SUBURBIA: "The suburbs still may offer a more desirable lifestyle for millions of Americans, but the performing arts industry relentlessly glorifies the urban experience. The arts, we're often told, thrive on big-city challenges and iconography. That's especially true in Chicago, with its long-standing but self-aware tradition of gritty theatrical excellence. But while the big downtown theaters... suck up most of the attention and money, theaters beyond the city limits are struggling. And it has become increasingly clear that a theatrical life in the suburbs -- even in the more affluent areas -- does not necessarily mean greener pastures." Chicago Tribune 05/19/02

Friday May 17

MILLIE BY A HEAD? It's campaign season on Broadway, and productions are trying to get noticed by the Tony judges. Thoroughly Modern Millie has pulled into the lead with an advertising blitz and reinvigorated box office. Urinetown is fading (it just wouldn't play out on the prairies), and Mama Mia! seems content to sit back and count its money. New York Post 05/17/02

TWO PLAYS RUNNING: Alan Ayckbourn's new play is really two plays that run on adjacent stages. "The audience stays put. People are invited to see both plays at separate performances but that is not essential to their understanding either one. The plays start at the same time, break for intermission at the same time and are supposed to end at the same time, give or take a few seconds, so that the actors can run back and forth between the two theaters and bow at the same time." The New York Times 05/17/02

Thursday May 16

I LOVE/HATE L.A.: "The playwrights who call Los Angeles home share a passionate love/hate relationship with the place. Catch them in the middle of workshop rehearsal for a new play, and they are likely to sing the joys of working in a place that offers artistic freedom, cultural diversity, an affordable lifestyle, a high concentration of great actors, the option of dabbling in industry work, and an abundance of strange and fascinating subject matter. Catch them on a bad day and you'll hear your fair share of ranting: L.A. writers are stigmatized, ghettoized the second they attempt to step outside the city limits." Backstage 05/15/02

Wednesday May 15

TONYS GET HOSTS: The Tony Awards finally have hosts - Gregory Hines and Bernadette Peters. Several stars had been asked to host, but declined. "Industry reaction to the Peters-Hines combo is pretty much what it's been for this whole lackluster season: yawn. Says one producer: 'I think everybody's looking ahead to 2003. Maybe things will be more exciting next year'." New York Post 05/15/02

BARBICAN CHIEF ROASTS RSC: The head of London's Barbican Centre has lashed out at the Royal Shakespeare Company for abandoning its leases on two theatres at the complex. "The two stages the RSC used at the Barbican were built for it to its specifications and the company received 1.8m a year in Arts Council subsidy to perform on them. Graham Sheffield also criticised the Arts Council, which funded the RSC, for failing to exercise 'either responsibility or common sense' over the RSC's decision to quit its long-time home in the capital." The Independent (UK) 05/15/02

STAR STRUCK: "In what seems to be the new mode of the London summer theatre season, big-ticket stages are crawling with Hollywood film stars: Matt Damon, Summer Phoenix and Casey Affleck (the little brother of Gwyneth's ex-love, Ben Affleck) have taken over as the pot-smoking cast of slackers in This Is Our Youth, at the Garrick. Their director, Laurence Boswell, also directs Madonna. The sudden influx of U.S. star power has taken the London media by storm. So many American actors to gush over, so little glam-shot space!" The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/15/02

MAD FOR THE MATERIAL GIRL: The hottest ticket in London's West End? Madonna's stage debut, which opened this week. "Fans arrived at 11am and waited in drizzle for eight hours for a chance to see the 43-year-old singer's West End debut in David Williamson's Up For Grabs - an arts-world satire in which she plays Loren, a ruthless dealer going to any length to shift a Jackson Pollock. Queueing was a tiresome process, but cheaper than paying between 150 and 400 on the black market." The Guardian (UK) 05/14/02

  • BLOODY AWFUL: So how'd she do? Reactions ranged "from lukewarm to decidedly icy and that was from her fans. The singer's performance was variously described as 'awful' 'stiff' and 'forced'." The Independent (UK) 05/14/02

Tuesday May 14

ACTORS - ONE-IN-FOUR WORKS: New statistics compiled by the Screen Actors Guild show that "23% of union members did not work during 1996-2000 and that 36% have worked less than five days in those five years." It's important to observe that many actors qaulified for membership in the union don't actively work anymore. But... Yahoo! (Variety) 05/13/02

LONE COWBOY: What made Adrian Noble leave his job as head of the Royal Shakespeare Company? Well, there was all the criticism, of course. Noble had the unfortunate habit of talking about his plans for the company in the first (and only) person. Did he ever have the support of the company's board for his grandiose plans? We may never know - but he's become a good example of why it's so important to play well with others. New Statesman 05/13/02

Monday May 13

JOBS JOBS JOBS: "Training films, or 'corporate videos' to give them their official title, are one of the more curious backwaters of the acting game. There is a huge market for in-house educational tapes, the sort used by major companies to demonstrate to staff new customer-care techniques or safety codes in the workplace. Some actors won't touch them, but they are handy fill-ins, and pay can be high." The Guardian (UK) 05/13/02

Sunday May 12

RSC'S FINAL BARBICAN BOWS: The Royal Shakespeare Company has wrapped up its final performances at the Barbican Centre in London, amid much confusion and controversy over its continued presence in the UK's capital city. The decision to vacate the Barbican was made by recently resigned director Adrian Noble, and some observers suspect that the direction of the RSC will be due for reevaluation once a new management team is in place. BBC 05/12/02

GOING HOLLYWOOD: London's West End theatre scene is rivaled only by New York's Broadway in prestige, and lately London is taking a page from the Big Apple's book of ticket-selling strategy. Hollywood stars with a yearning for the 'legitimate stage' have been infesting Broadway for years now, and this season, the phenomenon of the movie-star stage play has made the leap across the pond. Certainly, stars like Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow (both of whom, it should be pointed out, can effect convincing British accents) will do great box office, but is the trend towards using Hollywood stars even remotely good for theatre? Many think not. The Guardian (UK) 05/11/02

Friday May 10

PENIS BAN: The touring Australian show Puppetry of the Penis has been an international hit. But not in New Zealand. One city council has banned the show from a planned performance in the city's opera house. The Age (Melbourne) 05/10/02

Thursday May 9

END OF AN ERA: After 21 years playing in London, Cats, the longest-running show in West End history, is closing. "The houses were still very good, but it's an expensive show to run. There comes a point when the margins don't make sense any more." For the last show, some 150 of the show's alumni performers will take part, including the original cast. BBC 05/08/02

Wednesday May 8

PSSST - WANNA HOST THE TONYS? Nathan Lane, Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury and Whoopi Goldberg have all said no to serving as host of this year's Tonys, and organizers are getting nervous. "Theater people still smart at the memory of the infamous 'hostless' Tonys three years ago, a telecast that was widely considered a fiasco. 'We're scrambling to line someone up, but so far, we're stuck'." New York Post 05/08/02

IS LLOYD WEBBER A RADICAL? It's easy to deride Andrew Lloyd Webber's vanilla spectacles as empty. But seriously, he's more often been an innovator in his career - and poised to do it yet again. "Lloyd Webber is McCartney to Stephen Sondheim's Lennon. He suffers from just the same under-valuing as an innovator because his essential impulse to go for the big, thumping number with the catchy tune will always obscure the subtlety and bravery he is capable of." The Telegraph (UK) 05/08/02

Tuesday May 7

TONY NOMINATIONS: The musical Thoroughly Modern Millie led Tony Nominations Monday with 11. "The show, based on the 1967 movie musical of the same title, was followed by another new musical, Urinetown: The Musical and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, which will compete in the musical revival category. Both received 10 nominations each. For best musical, Millie and Urinetown will be competing against Mamma Mia! and Sweet Smell of Success." The New York Times 05/07/02

  • NO STARS: No show really dominates here. "Based on yesterday's announcement and the buzz leading up to it, this appears to be more of a share-the-wealth year with competition in almost all the categories." Boston Globe 05/07/02
  • EVEN FIELD: "There is a diverse field for best play, with Edward Albee's very different take on adultery in Edward Albee's the Goat, or Who is Sylvia? up against Mary Zimmerman's reinterpretation of classical myths in Metamorphoses, the much-acclaimed sibling rivalryin Suzan Lori-Parks' Topdog/Underdog , and Turgenev's Fortune's Fool. Although the latter was written in 1848, it made this category because the production is its first Broadway staging." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/07/02

NEW THEATRE BIENNIAL: Munich's 8th biennial of new musical theatre has just concluded. The works presented promised much. "That none of them was the kind of absolute masterpiece that will revolutionize the art world forever after should not be a cause for concern: Art occurs in the here and now, and there is no need to worry about the future and eternal values. Experimentation is more important." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/06/02

Monday May 6

DRABINSKY RETURNS? Canadian theatre impressario Garth Drabinsky is accused of perpetrating a fraud of $100 million before his company Livent collapsed a few years ago. But that isn't stopping the dsigraced showman (who can't set foot in the US because he'd be arrested) from plotting a Broadway comeback. He plans to bring The Dresser back to New York. The New York Times 05/06/02

WAS SHAKESPEARE GAY? A portrait of one of Shakespeare's patrons has renewed speculation about his sexuality. "The debate over Shakespeare's sexuality is 150 years old and will hardly be resolved by this girlish-looking portrait of Southampton. But the identification of the subject of this painting, described by some British newspapers as 'Southampton in drag,' has reawakened speculation over the possible bisexuality of Shakespeare, who left his wife, Anne Hathaway, in Stratford-Upon-Avon when he moved to London." The New York Times 05/06/02

Sunday May 5

POST-CATS POLITICS? London has a long tradition of political theatre. But "decades of middle-class angst and musicals have banished big ideas from the stage." Now comes Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, and "after more than a decade in which the death of political drama was loudly mourned or celebrated, depending on your point of view, the body has started twitching. Could it be heading for resurrection?" The Observer (UK) 05/05/02

THE RSC CHALLENGE: Adrian Noble's tenure as head of the Royal Shakespeare Company has been turbulent. "The R.S.C. has sometimes soared during Mr. Noble's 11-year reign, sometimes spluttered, sometimes glistened, sometimes resembled an overweening clump of tacked-together metal." But Mr. Noble has at least been grappling with the problems facing his theatre. "The company may still carry its performers safely into the future, but another conductor or artistic director will have to ensure that it does." The New York Times 05/05/02

SWEAR BY IT: The board of directors of a Texas theatre demanded the director of a production of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas remore all the swear words. But "32 of the 34 cast members walked out two weeks ago rather than remove the 27 occurrences of 'g-damn,' as the Crighton Theatre board of directors had ordered. The director and cast argued that the profanity was integral to the meaning of the play." Now the owner of the play's rights has granted the rights to produce the play to those who walked out. Houston Chronicle 05/05/02

SONDHEIM AS ERA: Stephen Sondheim is a god to serious music theatre fans, who will be converging on Washington for the major Sonheim retrospective about to get underway. "Together, the revivals at the Kennedy Center and on Broadway certify what has been apparent to musical theater aficionados for decades: that over the last 30 years, the once humble musical comedy form has been dominated and transformed by Mr. Sondheim and his collaborators into something intellectually challenging and morally weighty." The New York Times 05/05/02

WORDS TO BE PERFORMED: Why did Dickens never become a playwright? "The verbal arts - novels, plays, screenplays, opera, poetry, etc. - have always had crossover practitioners. At one time, almost all playwrights were also poets, and many poets aspired to writing plays. But the link between the novelist and the playwright is a very special one." New York Post 05/05/02

Friday May 3

COUNTDOWN TO TONY: Next Monday Broadway's Tony nominations will be announced in what promises to be "one of the most interesting Tony contests in years." Here's an informal survey of theatre professionals with ideas about what should win. The New York Times 05/03/02

  • DISMAL YEAR: "Surveying the generally dismal offerings, one nominator says: 'If the Tonys really are about excellence, then we should leave some of the categories blank this year.' That, of course, is not going to happen. The Tonys aren't about excellence anymore. They're about ticket sales and hype and publicity; they're about marketing Broadway as a 'destination point' and a 'brand name'." New York Post 05/03/02

THE PRODUCERS LIVES: The Producers seems to have successfully made the transition to new lead actors. "The actors playing them are no longer named Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. And the hard-working, perfectly likable fellows who have replaced them, Brad Oscar and Steven Weber, don't begin to approach the same standards of teamwork. It is as if they had been shoved into someone else's custom-tailored suits and then asked to grow or shrink into the clothes through sheer willpower." But the show still works fine. It's still "the flashiest, brassiest and most purely entertaining show in town." The New York Times 05/03/02

  • MORE ABOUT THE SHOW: There are pluses and minuses to the new pair. But "it's important to know that the show was never just a vehicle for two actors. It remains the adorable, impolite extravaganza, an orgy of bad taste directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman with more ideas per second than most musicals have in an evening." Newsday 05/03/02

Thursday May 2

THE DOCTOR IS IN: The Royal Shakespeare Company has fallen on hard times. "Threatened strikes. Demoralised actors. Uprisings in the Midlands. Rancorous criticism of Noble himself, culminating in his extraordinary resignation last week. What happens next? Not an easy one to answer. All one can do, as a critical observer with no access to the books, is offer a plan to those who even now are busy restoring the RSC's damaged reputation..." Herewith, critic Michael Billington's nine-point plan to restore the RSC's fortunes. The Guardian (UK) 05/01/02