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THEATRE - October 2002

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Thursday October 31

MOSCOW PRODUCER TO REMOUNT SHOW HELD HOSTAGE: The producer of the show held hostage by Chechen rebels last week in Moscow says he'll remount the production. Somewhere. "Eighteen members of the show's cast and crew died in the seige, including two girls aged 13 and 14, and many are still in hospital. He hoped the show, regarded as Russia's first musical, would eventually be performed again, but never in the same theatre. 'Even if Moscow authorities rebuild it, this place will remain cursed anyway'." BBC 10/30/02

MERGER TROUBLES IN CLEVELAND: "The top players in the merger negotiations between Cleveland's two financially struggling major professional theaters say it's all about creating a new and exciting company that could make Cleveland one of the best theater towns in the country. But talk to some rank-and-file board members and staffers at the theaters, and the picture that emerges is one in which the Cleveland Play House wants to come out on top, and Great Lakes Theater Festival is struggling to maintain a semblance of an identity." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 10/31/02

Wednesday October 30

BOMB THREAT CANCELS MOSCOW PRODUCTION OF 42ND STREET: A bomb threat at the Moscow theatre where a traveling production of 42nd Street is playing forced cancellation of the show. The threat was enough for several cast members, who decided to quit the show and leave Russia. "Everyone is trying to find out tonight whether this bomb scare was al-Qaeda or Chechnyan or some random prankster, but the Russian government is not telling us anything, just like they are not telling doctors the gas that they used." Denver Post 10/30/02

Tuesday October 29

HARLEM FALLING: Harlem Song, currently playing at Harlem's Apollo Theatre had a lot riding on it. The show chronicles Harlem's history, and was intended to be a "cornerstone" of the area's renaissance. It got great reviews, "but the $4 million production has been running at a loss since it opened — most recently about $30,000 a week short of the $200,000 it needs to break even — and the producers said they could not afford to continue." So produces say it will close if $300,000 can't be raised by the end of the week. The New York Times 10/29/02

LOOKING GOOD: It's shaping up as an unusually good year on Broadway. Ticket sales are surging, already there have been two blockbuster hits, a couple more solid contenders, and December (usually a down month) has a calendar stuffed with openings. Dallas Morning News 10/29/02

AYCKBOURN PROTEST STAR TURNS: Prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn is threatening to quit London's West End theatre scene. "The dramatist is 'furious' that producers in search of new audiences are hiring cinema, pop and television stars at the expense of accomplished stage actors. Sir Alan criticised Madonna's 'inaudible' starring role in David Williamson's Up for Grabs, which he said was so bad she should have been regarded as a silent exhibit rather than an actor." The Independent (UK) 10/25/02

JOHN LAHR REMEMBERS ADOPH GREEN: "He could sing a symphony—or, literally, throw himself into song. Head bobbing, voice croaking, arms pinwheeling, Green whipped himself up until he attained full dervishosity. A sort of prodigy of playfulness, he was unabashed by silliness and quite capable of pursuing frivolity to zany heights. In his version of Flight of the Bumble Bee, for instance, he would start as if he were playing the violin, only to end up flitting and buzzing like the bee." The New Yorker 10/28/02

FRECHETTE WINS CANADA'S RICHEST THEATRE PRIZE: Montreal playwright Carole Fréchette has won the the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize, Canada's richest theatre prize. Fréchette is the author of eight plays, including the 1995 Governor-General's Award winning Les Quartres Morts de Marie. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/29/02

Monday October 28

LOOKING TO REGAIN AN EMPIRE: Cameron Mackintosh is one of the biggest producers of Broadway hits ever. But currently he's only got one show running on the Great White Way. "Mackintosh says Broadway is going through a 'retro' wave of upbeat shows centered on familiar material, 'often rather brilliantly repackaged'." But things change, he says. And he's negotiating on his next project. Hartford Courant 10/27/02

DEBBIE DOES BROADWAY: Broadway gets its inspiration from wherever it comes. The latest is from the 70s porn film Debbie Does Dallas. The show was a hit at the recent NY Fringe Festival. "But Debbie, which opens tomorrow night at the Jane Street Theater, is not a salacious spectacle replete with whips and waterbeds. Rather, it's a cheery sendup of the American Dream, in which innocents awaken to discover the true meaning of supply and demand." New York Daily News 10/28/02

Sunday October 27

HOW ABOUT TEAMSTERS AS TICKET-TAKERS? "Some London theaters are increasing security in reaction to the siege of a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels, while on Broadway additional measures also have been taken to ensure safety. But most European theater operators said Friday they were satisfied with precautions already in place." Los Angeles Times (AP) 10/26/02

Friday October 25

ADOLPH GREEN, 87: Adolph Green, half of a songwriting team with Betty Comden, has died. "The best Comden and Green lyrics were brash and buoyant, full of quick wit, best exemplified by New York, New York, an exuberant and forthright hymn to their favorite city. Yet even the songwriters' biggest pop hits - The Party's Over, Just in Time and Make Someone Happy - were simple, direct and heartfelt." Nando Times (AP) 10/24/02

Thursday October 24

BEING TWYLA THARP: Critics have not been kind to the new Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel collaboration slated to hit Broadway this week. Some writers, in fact, savaged the production from top to bottom, and singled out Tharp as an artist who should have known better than to get involved in such a collection of pop dreck. But Tharp, one of the most respected choreographers of her generation, is determined to make the show work, and seems fairly sure that the critics will come around. New York Post 10/24/02

Wednesday October 23

KID APPEAL: How to get kids interested in theatre? "It's clear that theatre isn't as irrelevant to young people as we are often told. They're not alienated by the actual art-form so much as the structures and habits they see imposed on it by the adult world. Think high ticket prices, and hushed, hallowed atmospheres. Think lack of novelty or urgency." The Guardian (UK) 10/23/02

DRABINSKY CHARGED: Theatre producers Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb have been charged with 19 counts of fraud in Toronto arising from the loss of half a billion dollars to his investors. "One thing even his most unforgiving foes would have to admit is that unlike, say, the disgraced executives in the Enron scandal, Drabinsky was never primarily motivated by an appetite for personal wealth. Throughout his spectacular rise and fall at Cineplex Odeon in the 1980s as well as his tragic second act at Livent in the 1990s, it was always clear Drabinsky was chasing a much bigger dream than money." Toronto Star 10/23/02

Tuesday October 22

RSC TO ADAPT RUSHDIE: The Royal Shakespeare Company has taken on adapting Salman Rushdie's book Midnight's Children for the stage. Up til now the book has been a jinx for anyone trying to adapt it. "The last attempt to transfer the book from the page collapsed twice after first the Indian government, and then the Sri Lankan authorities, caved in to Muslim fundamentalists and refused the BBC permission to film there." The Guardian (UK) 10/22/02

Sunday October 20

COST OF THE NEW: "Apparently, Canadian theatres love new play development. In the last decade, a veritable industry of script editing (or dramaturgy, as it's known in the trade) and workshopping has grown up on the national theatre scene, where increasingly the public is invited to watch development work." But is all the effort and expense worth it? The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/19/02

Friday October 18

FROM STAGE TO SCREEN: More and more stage directors are being recruited to direct movies. "Stage directors, like their film-school-bred counterparts, are storytellers who have to use visual and technical skill to advance a narrative. Hire a theater guy, and quite often you'll get somebody who is hungry for a challenge, willing to think in innovative ways - and who will know how to talk to actors." The Star-Tribune (LADN) 10/18/02

Thursday October 17

DIGITAL THEATRE: Think of theatre as an analog experience in a digital era dominated by video? Wrong - today's theatre productions can employ an astonishing array of high-tech tools to create their magic. "Little more than a decade after a helicopter first landed onstage in the musical Miss Saigon, theatrical designers are stretching the boundaries of what is possible with a variety of new digital tools that allow them to coordinate and control dozens of independent elements - lights, sound, sets and special effects - from a keyboard." The New York Times 10/17/02

Wednesday October 16

HITTING STRIDE: Margo Lion is a rare breed - an independent Broadway producer among the corporate entities that dominate modern Broadway. But it's not easy. She has "plugged away for 25 years, struggling to raise money for her projects, putting up her West Side apartment and one piece of good sculpture as collateral; generating theater that was creatively satisfying but rarely commercially successful." And then came Hairspray... The New York Times 10/16/02

CHANGE ARTISTS: In the past year there has been a big turnover in the top jobs at London's subsidized theatres. Change of leadership is always disrupting, but each of the theatres (and the new people running them) has their own solutions for how to move on after a departure. The Times (UK) 10/16/02

UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT: "The rumored takeover of [San Francisco's] Theatre on the Square by Broadway and touring producer Scott E. Nederlander has become fact. The 738-seat house near Union Square will change hands [later this fall]... The deal marks the end of independent producer Jonathan Reinis' 20-year run at Theatre on the Square. Reinis owns the theater's name and may retain it for other projects, including a proposed performing arts center at the UC Theatre in downtown Berkeley." San Francisco Chronicle 10/16/02

LOOK FOR THAT UNION LABEL: In Denver, where the Civic Theatre has been rocked by debt in recent years, a new New York-based producer has been brought in to turn things around, and it didn't take Mitchell Maxwell long to start making changes. Maxwell has announced that the Civic, previously a non-union theatre, will now work with Actors Equity and pay full union scale to its performers. Maxwell also intends to sell naming rights not only to the theatre itself, but to individual elements such as the stage, the auditorium, and the attached art gallery. Denver Post 10/16/02

Tuesday October 15

READING THE REGIONALS: Britain's Barclays Theatre Awards point up the insecurity of the country's regional theatres. The theatres feel they need to hire stars, "because even well established theatre companies alone would not be enough to attract audiences." But help may be at hand. The government has promised financial help next year and already there are "signs of theatres mounting more ambitious pieces, and getting together to co-produce expensive touring shows." The Guardian (UK) 10/15/02

KING OF THE MUSICAL: Producer Cameron Mackintosh "likes being number one. In terms of musicals, he has been there for nigh on 20 years, colonising foreign cities with his chorus lines. For Miss Saigon alone, the figures it trails in its shadow are staggering. Performed in 15 countries and 79 cities. Translated into eight languages and winner of 29 major theatre awards. Played to 29 million - million! - people at more than 18,000 performances." The Scotsman 10/14/02

THE MUPPETS GO TO KABUL: After Afghan kids fall in love with a Muppet, creators of the puppets make new Afghan muppets and take them in a show to the war-torn country. BBC 10/15/02

Monday October 14

VANYA (AND MIKHAIL AND SERGEI) ON 42ND STREET: It was supposed to be a historic moment in post-Soviet cultural development in Russia - the first big-time Broadway musical to make it's way to Russia, complete with all the bells and whistles of a touring show in the States. It turned into a nightmare, with the American director lamenting the unwillingness of the Russian production team to take direction, with a last-minute Russian translation broadcast over headphones being the final straw.. "A character called 'Anytime Annie' in the English version had become 'Annie Spread Your Legs.' References to hookers and Viagra were littered throughout the script... One line, someone saying to a chorus girl: 'Hey Ethel -- must have been hard on your mother not having any children', was changed to: 'Hey, Ethel, too bad your mother didn't get an abortion.'" Washington Post 10/14/02

Sunday October 13

IS BROADWAY BAD FOR THEATRE? For decades, the progression of a given play or musical from one of America's regional theatre centers to the bright lights of Broadway has been largely unchanged. New productions are shuffled off to a regional the way newly drafted baseball players are sent to the minors for seasoning, and brought up to the big time when they are deemed to have worked out all the kinks. But in the last few years, regional theatre has begun to rethink its role in the process, and some have begun to question whether the Broadway Way is really the right way? "Some critics such as Robert Brustein, retired founding artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre, have argued repeatedly and vehemently that producing shows that are bound for Broadway inevitably compromises the artistic integrity of regional theaters - that it undermines the 'mission' of nonprofit theater, which is to create and nurture artistry and new work." Boston Globe 10/13/02

THEY'RE SO CUTE AT THIS AGE: In the age of star-driven theatre productions, who to give first billing is usually not an issue. But what do you do when Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench are both starring in your play? And once you've figured out the billing order, who gets the prime dressing room? These things may seem minor to the public, but actors have walked out of productions over their placement on promotional material, and such 'exposure issues' are considered a very big deal in the theatrical community. The Observer (UK) 10/13/02

DENVER CIVIC TO GET A DOSE OF NEW YORK: "Control of the debt-ridden Denver Civic Theater is expected to be transferred Oct. 21 to prolific and at times controversial New York producer Mitchell Maxwell, The Denver Post has learned. Maxwell said he plans to reopen the theater's two performing spaces and art gallery May 1, along with an on-site, late-night cafe-restaurant... Maxwell may turn out to be the savior of the Civic, but he has detractors, most notably a New York Post columnist who dubbed him 'Lord of the Flops' after his Bells Are Ringing closed on Broadway in June 2001." Denver Post 10/13/02

Friday October 11

THREE SF THEATRES TO CLOSE: Three San Francisco theatre houses are shutting down because of a downturn in business. The 240-seat Mason Street Theatre and adjacent 80-seat Union Square announced their closings this week, following news that the 738-seat Theatre on the Square would close at the end of the year. "The phones used to ring two to three times a week with producers in search of a theater. That just died." San Francisco Chronicle 10/11/02

LONDON CALLING: Why are American movie stars so anxious to perform on London stages? Maybe it's because they feel that "Americans tend to fare better treading the boards here than they do in their own country. The perception among many American stars is that the critical piranhas lie mercilessly in wait on Broadway, where seeing a film star on stage isn’t such a novelty." The Times 10/11/02

RERUN: Broadway is full of revivals this season. "The rationale among the high-minded is that producers serve as enlightened curators, like those in art museums, preserving and reinterpreting classics for new audiences and that plays can only benefit from a revival. The less stated fact is that producers minimize financial risk by relying on a familiar formula. But are current shows worth an audience paying new money for an old formula?" Christian Science Monitor 10/11/02

Thursday October 10

PROOF'S LONG RUN: Successful musicals run for years and years on Broadway. Plays, on the other hand, are more ephemeral. A very successful play will last a year. When Proof closes in January it will be the longest-running play in the past 20 years after playing 918 performances and 16 previews. (there's a list of longest-running Broadway plays of all time at the end of this article). Playbill 10/09/02

Wednesday October 9

CUTTING OFF A CRITIC: Toronto's Canadian Stage has refused to issue anymore review tickets to CBC critic Lynn Slotkin, calling her reviews "consistently mean-spirited, negative and personal." It's not about bad reviews, the theatre says - rather it's her tone that annoys them... National Post 10/09/02

Monday October 7

OH MY MIMI: Director Baz Luhrmann loves to reinvent. His new take on La Bohème is "about to land slap-bang in the middle of Broadway, with all the attendant razzmatazz. And it's not cut, translated or otherwise jazzed-up or dumbed-down either: every note of the score will be sung and played by trained singers and a full orchestra.This crazy and wonderful project has a long history." The Telegraph (UK) 10/07/02

THE POOR OLD RSC: The Royal Shakespeare Company is a shambles. Abandoning the Barbican, hiring celebrities, a Bard theme park, talk of knocking down its Stratford home, turnover at the top... The company has so many problems it's difficult to know where to start in fixing them. How did a venerable company get into so much trouble? The Guardian (UK) 10/07/02

Sunday October 6

NEW THEATRES FOR NEW REALITIES: The South Coast Repertory Theatre in Southern California is one of America's more robust regional theatres. This weekend the SCR unveiled its reconfingured home - a "three-venue, 78,000-square- foot complex that rivals the finest in the country." Its transformation reflects the changes that regional non-profit theatre has undergone in the past decade. Orange County Register 10/06/02

TROUBLE ON BROADWAY? Sure Hairspray's a big hit on Broadway this season. But beyond that, "a number of long-running productions - the foundation of Broadway's cumulative box-office tally - are showing significant slippage." Les Miz is closing after 16 years, and several other old-timers are reporting greatly reduced business. And "there are no sure things among the new contenders - and there's already a whiff of trouble among a few of them." Hartford Courant 10/06/02

MUSICAL MAKEOVER: There was a time that movie musicals were very popular. Those days are long gone now. So some reinvention is in order. "In the last three years, the salvage operation has become an international project, with directors as dissimilar as Lars von Trier (Danish), Baz Luhrmann (Australian) and most recently François Ozon (French) trotting out ambitious idiosyncratic test models of a new and improved 21st-century movie musical." The New York Times 10/06/02

DO THEY WANT WHAT WE'RE OFFERING? It's so easy to blame a downturn in ticket sales to 9/11 and an economic downturn. These are certainly the excuses du jour. But a couple of Denver theatres wonder if their decline in business has something more to do with the kind of product they're offering. Denver Post 10/06/02

Friday October 4

FOGGY BOTTOM: The American Guild of Musical Artists has laid out new rules for the use of fog onstage. The new rules come after a battle with San Francisco Opera where onstage performers complained stage fog was making them ill. "People have been getting sick; been hospitalized; some have been directly incapacitated by smoke and fog; others have been incapacitated later and believe that smoke and fog is the cause of their problems." Backstage 10/03/02

WHY ACTING SUCKS: "There isn't anything the matter with drama schools. But there's everything imaginable the matter with what happens to the young actor when he or she leaves drama school. That first year out of work is complete hell. A lot of the good work that happened in those three years can get thrown out of the window. If you spend years studying and then all you have is two days on The Bill, you become cynical, unless you have the spiritual resources of the Dalai Lama. The whole pick-up-and-drop theatre system all over the west, where we don't have permanent ensembles, is terrible for self-esteem." Financial Times 10/04/02

ONLY IN NEW YORK: In most cities, patrons arriving at a theater and being asked to shell out $115 for a single ticket to a play would hoot with laughter, and then go see a movie. In New York, such unconscionable gouging apparently just makes the lines longer. Of course, it doesn't hurt when the play in question, (which has now set the record for highest ever off-Broadway ticket price) stars Al Pacino, Billy Crudup, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi, most of whom, let's face it, don't show up in those other cities a whole lot anyway. The New York Times 10/04/02

Thursday October 3

BARBICAN TO COMPETE WITH SHAKESPEARE: The Barbican says it will start producing Shakespeare - without the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Barbican had been the RSC's longtime home until leaving in March for the West End. The new competition is chilling news. In the last year the RSC has "lost an artistic director, audiences, and, some say, its way. Now it will have to contend with new competition. The Guardian (UK) 10/03/02

NOT SUCH A MISERABLE RUN: Les Miserables is closing on Broadway after 15 years. It opened March 12, 1987 and has been seen by some 9 million people on Broadway as well as millions more at road productions. The show won 8 Tonys, including Best Musical and the Broadway production has grossed $390 million so far. Still, the show has been selling less than half its seats, and with a large cast, it has substantial weekly running costs. Playbill 10/02/02

DELUSIONS OF POWER: New Republic theatre critic Robert Brustein speaks in Australia about arts criticism. Deploring 'Himalaya criticism'- brief, opinionated, polarised, either total approval or scathing, destructive and reputation-destroying denunciation - he pointed to the appalling power of The New York Times' drama critic to close shows." The Age (Melbourne) 10/03/02

Wednesday October 2

THE SUGAR MAN: French Canadian songwriter Luc Plamondon is the Andrew Lloyd Webber of French musical theatre. His Starmania, which "opened in Paris 23 years ago, is the most successful French-language musical ever (as of today, more than three million people have seen it on stage and five million albums have been sold) and 1998's Notre Dame de Paris was another smashing success. A favourite songwriter of Celine Dion, Plamondon is not embarrassed by sentiment. It's safe to say his songs make Elton John look like an ironist." Now he's got a new show - a remake of Cinderella... The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/02/02