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Monday, October 31, 2005

"The Producers" Doesn't Pay Off In Australia "The Producers" has shut early in Australia, running only six months. "The show has made a modest profit but only because it ran for eight months in Melbourne last year. It's a far cry from Disney's family extravaganza, The Lion King, which packed out the Capitol Theatre for almost two years and is playing to full houses in Melbourne." Sydney Morning Herald 11/01/05

Scotland's National Theatre Opens For Business "Scotland, for better or worse, has no great weighty theatre tradition behind it. There is no Shakespeare or Marlowe, no George Bernard Shaw or Wilde. Scottish theatre has always been demotic and vital, led by great performances, great stories or great playwrights. This is a chance to start building a new generation of theatre-goers as well as reinvigorating the existing ones; to create theatre on a national and international scale that is contemporary, confident and forward-looking; to bring together brilliant artists, composers, choreographers and playwrights; and to exceed our expectation of what and where theatre can be." The Guardian (UK) 11/01/05

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Les Miz Turns 20 It was 20 years ago last week that Les Miserables opened in London. Produced worldwide since then, "Les Miz," as it is popularly known (or "The Glums"), "has so far been performed in 38 countries in 21 languages," and "a licensed schools edition has seen 3,000 amateur productions." It has "penetrated deep into the cultural life of a generation - and there are no signs of an abatement. Why has this happened?" Financial Times 10/28/05

Wilma's Terrible Timing As South Florida begins to dig out from the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma, the region's theatres are struggling to cope with the revenue loss that will inevitably be the result of continued power outages and civic chaos. "Most arts groups are hopeful that early-November shows will go on as scheduled, and once a facility's power is restored, that should be the case." But the weekend that the hurricane hit was opening weekend for a number of local productions, and "by the time the reviews ran (though people who didn't get a newspaper, have Internet access or were otherwise consumed with post-hurricane life undoubtedly didn't read them), the theaters were like the vast majority of South Florida's population: in the dark." Miami Herald 10/30/05

Broadway From The Inside Out Talk to any Broadway veteran for a few minutes, and you'll be sure to get an earful of the strange and wonderful behind-the-scenes world that most theatre-goers never get a chance to experience. So it's almost surprising that an "inside Broadway" walking tour has only just sprung up in Manhattan. "Throughout the tour, one's attention is brought to things even the most eagle-eyed pedestrian can miss. These include the comedy/tragedy gargoyles adorning the Lunt-Fontanne; the diminutive shoeprints of actress Helen Hayes in the sidewalk in front of the theater that bears her name; and the elaborate mural depicting various theater greats adjoining the Marriott Marquis Hotel." New York Post 10/29/05

Coming Soon: Webster's Ninth Collegiate Musical Spectacular! Now that Strunk & White's Elements of Style has been reborn as a song cycle, and Broadway appears to have finally run out of all original ideas (see Movin' Out), Dominic Papatola says that it may just be time for the theatre world to embrace the great English language reference books as inspiration. "The three-volume Columbia Gazetteer of the World sits on my bookshelf at home, and, I'm telling you, you can't beat it for sheer drama. If Richard Wagner could make a 15-hour opera out of the story of some doofus dwarf and a ring, I see no reason the epic tale of the Encyclopaedia Britannica couldn't be made into an heroic-scale grand opera." St. Paul Pioneer Press 10/30/05

  • Previously: You Just Know E.B. White Would Have Loved This "Strunk and White's legendary Elements of Style was first published in 1959, and in the intervening decades, this little book on language and its proper usage has been force-fed to countless high school English students, who have read it zealously, dog-eared key pages, showered it in graphite love or else completely disregarded and forgotten it, usually at their own risk... [A]ppreciation for this slim volume takes a turn toward the whimsical and even surreal this week, as the Penguin Press publishes the first illustrated edition, featuring artwork by Maira Kalman, and the young composer Nico Muhly offers a finely wrought Elements of Style song cycle, to be given its premiere tonight [at] the New York Public Library." The New York Times 10/19/05
Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chronicling NY's Downtown Theatre Michael Feingold has written about theatre for the Village Voice for 34 years. "That so many Voice critics have been, openly, practitioners has often given uptown journalists pause. But it had to do less with the long-standing tradition of the critic-playwright than with the communal nature of what had evolved, by the early 1960s, into the Off-Off-Broadway movement. While Off-Broadway itself became more upscale and commercial minded, the Downtown theater had burgeoned into a large, loose pool of extraordinary talents that was a community in itself. Not to participate actively would have marked one as hardly more than a tourist in an audience where, it sometimes seemed, everyone was a practitioner, and usually a multitasker at that." Village Voice 10/25/05

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Siminovotch Award To Half Life Author Playwright John Mighton has won Canada's richest theatre prize for his entire body of work, which includes this year's breakout hit, Half Life. The Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize, which pays CAN$100,000 to the winner, recognizes "a body of work by an artist in mid-career," but there's no question that the popularity of Mighton's latest play was a factor in his win. "Last week, it was short-listed for the Governor-General's Literary Awards, for English drama. Audiences have also embraced Mighton's play, set in a nursing home and exploring memory loss as a natural and necessary part of human evolution." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/26/05

Broadway Tix Get Yet More Expensive Forget about family-friendly pricing. The price of the top Broadway theatre tickets, which shot past the $100 threshold four years ago when Producers mania was in full swing, has risen again, to a top price of $110 for popular shows like Spamalot and Wicked. The average ticket price on Broadway now sits somewhere north of $60. The New York Times 10/26/05

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Broadway - Where Are The Latinos? Few Latinos attend Broadway shows. "Despite many mainstream companies' frantic attempts to cater to the booming Latino market, Broadway remains overwhelmingly non-Hispanic. Though the number of Broadway-going Hispanics during the 2004-5 season was the highest since the League of American Theaters and Producers began such surveys, they still made up just 5.7 percent of the total. They account for 12.5 percent of the United States population, according to the latest report of the United States Bureau of the Census." Now some producers are trying some unorthodox marketing to build that audience. The New York Times 10/26/05

Reinventing Ottawa's National Peter Hinton is the new director of Ottawa's National Arts Centre Theatre. "A new artistic director should be an opportunity for a theatre to look at itself, to re-examine what it's doing. My appointment to the place begged a lot of questions about what kind of future there would be." Since it opened in 1969, the NAC has never done an all-Canadian season, notes Hinton. "That's really interesting to me. It speaks to the brevity of our history and the way new-play development has grown and reached its own ceiling." The Globe & mail (Canada) 10/25/05

Are West End Ticket Prices Too High? "The West End doesn't allow you to try because tickets are £55. Then you have to take a taxi and pay the baby-sitter, and there is no change out of £200. 'If we charge £10, or on our public dress rehearsals, £1 - you might not like it, but at least you can afford to come back next week. Nonetheless, theatre attendance is on the increase." BBC 10/25/05

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Louisiana Musicians Turn Down NY Gig Replacing Strikers Musicians of the Louisiana Philharmonic were excited at prospects of a 10-week gig playing at radio City Music Hall in New York for $1,600 a week. Since the musicians are out of work, it seems like a dream opportunity. But then the players discovered they would be replacing striking colleagues... The New York Times 10/23/05

Broadway Shows Top the $100 Mark "Three of New York's most popular musicals boosted their top everyday ticket price 10% this month -- exceeding the $100 ceiling that had held steady for more than four years. The increase was the first since "The Producers" spurred a wave of $100 tickets in April 2001. The latest move comes at a time of rising production costs for ever-more-elaborate shows. It helps that attendance is finally back to pre-Sept. 11, 2001, levels. Twenty weeks into the season, overall box-office receipts are up 11% from last year, and attendance has increased 6.6% in the same period." The Wall Street Journal 10/22/05

Friday, October 21, 2005

Producers Screws Up With The Press In Chicago A New York producer bringing a show to Chicago bars Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss from attending a press conference announcing the show, then tortures the press he does allow inside by ambushing them with a game. Dumb move. Both the Sun-Times and Tribune protested... Chicago Reader 10/20/05

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Where Are The Hot New UK Playwrights "Which, if any, current playwrights might become household names in years to come. Alongside Harold Pinter, the 1950s and 1960s brought a plethora of acclaimed playwrights, including a trio of Sirs - David Hare, Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn. But as television and film gained increasing prominence, new playwrights have struggled to enter our national consciousness." BBC 10/20/05

Welcome To Workshop Hell. May We Take Your Dignity? "There is a land for playwrights called Workshop Hell. It resides in the rehearsal halls and the mostly empty auditoriums of this nation's theaters. In Workshop Hell, new scripts are pushed to their feet in readings and semistaged productions. They're critiqued and commented upon and massaged. Those workshops most frequently lead to... another workshop. And another. And sometimes, another. For writers caught in Workshop Hell, seeing their script under the full illumination of stage lights can be a distant dream." St. Paul Pioneer Press 10/20/05

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

RSC: Connecting Today With The Bard "For the Royal Shakespeare Company, revivified under the directorship of Michael Boyd, restoring the link between Shakespeare and contemporary writing is becoming something of a mission..." Financial Times 10/18/05

Kennedy Center Swears Off Virtual Orchestra Washington DC's Kennedy Center has signed a new contract with its musicians that says the Center will not use a virtual orchestra for any of its shows. "The debate over virtual orchestras was part of a four-day strike in 2003 by Broadway musicians. Theatrical producers had proposed reducing the number of players, to save money, and bring in a virtual orchestra. That attempt failed but has been tried elsewhere." Washington Post 10/18/05

Introducing The August Wilson Theatre Broadway's Virginia Theatre was renamed the August Wilson Theatre. In a ceremony, Wilson's daughter read the late playwright's words on hearing the theatre was to be named for him: "I have a robust imagination and I have imagined for myself many things," wrote Wilson, author of such plays as "Fences," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "The Piano Lesson." I have imagined a wife and two beautiful daughters, and I have imagined a sustained career for myself in the theater. But not in my wildest imagination could I have ever imagined this." Backstage (AP) 10/18/05

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Booker Prize For Theatre? Playwrights have difficulty getting attention"The Manchester Royal Exchange theatre is hoping to redress that balance with the Bruntwood Playwriting Competition, a national contest to discover and celebrate Britain's best writers for the theatre. Launching next month, the competition has a prize fund of £45,000 and offers the winner a fully staged production in the Royal Exchange's 750-capacity main house theatre. A runner-up play will be staged at the theatre's smaller, 120-seat studio." The Guardian (UK) 10/18/05

Classical Music/Theatre Hybrid Finds An Audience "While classical musical organizations increasingly struggle to draw people into the concert hall, and Broadway has more or less resigned itself to being a purveyor of 'products' that happen to be musicals, Hershey Felder has developed a hybrid form. He is one of those rare performers who can hold an audience in rapt silence while playing the most intimate Chopin nocturne or prelude, and then bring that same audience together to sing 'I'm Always Chasing Rainbows,' the 1940s standard whose melody is based on Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu in C# Minor." Chicago Sun-Times 10/17/05

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Seattle Fringe Rebound "The quality of the so-called 'fringe' — the ever-changing circle of independent Seattle troupes with large creative aspirations and modest means — is a cyclical thing. Today (knock wood), it's on the upswing. Is it the wildly imaginative, thrillingly relevant fringe scene of my dreams? No. Curiously, there is a dearth here of provocative, topical fare that ignites discussion and makes theater part of the public debate about burning issues of war, peace, class, race, et al. But there are compensations." Seattle Times 10/16/05

A Chicago Theatre Quits Producing - Too Many Mistakes It was only eight months ago that Chicago's new $9 million Drury Lane Theatre at the Watertower Place opened in a blaze of publicity. Now the theatre is quitting making original theatre, admitting its mistakes and failure. "It's an astonishingly rapid turnaround and indicative of eight months on Chicago's Magnificent Mile that have not gone well at all. There are no current plans for the theater to produce its own shows again." Chicago Tribune 10/16/05

Oooooh - A Flop In The Making? After a two-year gestation involving several much-discussed readings and workshops, 'In My Life' is widely expected to be one of the weirdest productions to reach Broadway in years. There was, for one thing, the plot involving a singer-songwriter with Tourette's syndrome, a song about a tumor and a swishy dead accountant who dances with God. There was the dare-the-critics poster art featuring large, Magritte-like lemons. And then there was the creative team, in particular the composer, lyricist, book writer and director, none of whom had worked on Broadway before and all of whom were in fact the same man: a 67-year-old former jingle writer and Hollywood anomaly named Joe Brooks." The New York Times 0/16/05

Pinter - Master Of The Pause "Words are the dialectical battleground of Pinter's works, sometimes treasured and hoarded like irreplaceable gems, sometimes scattered heedlessly like junk in a looted dime store. His people live by them, betray them, bicker over them, flay one another with them." Village Voice 10/12/05

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Where Are Tomorrow's Theatre Audiences? "Bringing in new audiences has become an increasing concern for theater companies with aging subscribers. Not only is the coveted 18- to 35-year-old demographic not subscribing, they aren't even a substantial slice of the single-ticket buying pie. In response, companies are developing clever methods of channeling attention toward their theaters - things like student rush, which offers tickets for reduced rates right before a show. Other theaters are taking more proactive steps, like the College Ambassador Program." Christian Science Monitor 10/14/05

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Never Put Your Show's Fate In The Hands Of Critics "When a group of New York producers announced they were bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White to Broadway, there was plenty of head-scratching around Shubert Alley. The $8 million show, which opened last year in London, had three strikes against it: West End critics gave it mixed reviews; reporters and critics for the [New York] Post and the New York Times who attended the opening night performance registered their reservations; and the box office never took off (an investor in the London production says it's nowhere close to paying back)." Still, tweaks have been made, and the producers are assuring everyone within earshot that the show is much better now. Unfortunately, they tried to prove it by inviting the critics back... New York Post 10/12/05

Arguing Evolution For Your Entertainment This week, a trial over the increasingly contentious issue of human genetic history began in Pennsylvania, where a school board member is suing to get "intelligent design" included in the curriculum alongside Darwin's theory of evolution. Meanwhile, in California, a performance kicked off a tour of a play based on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. The rhetoric coming from both venues is white-hot, as religious conservatives and secularists continue to square off across the U.S., and while the theatre company presenting the tour says it isn't taking sides, the question of evolution, long thought to have been settled, has suddenly become fodder for dangerously political drama. The New York Times 10/12/05

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Now That's Knowing Your Audience The British city of Bath has a new children's theatre, known as The Egg, and its designers are right proud of it, which is good, since they're also the target demographic. "Children have played a large part in creating this theatre, which has been built inside an old cinema the entrance of which is round the side of its parent company, the Theatre Royal Bath... Being inside the Egg is like being inside a traditional theatre but with none of the more daunting elements. There are no dark velvet curtains, there is no prickly plush, the seats are smooth and not flip-up." And perhaps best of all, there's a soundproof room at the back where parents can take a screaming baby away from the crowd while still being able to see and hear the production. The Telegraph (UK) 10/12/05

Britain's Theatre For New Writing Turns 50 Tom Stoppard and David Hare have each been commissioned to write a new play for the 50th anniversary season of London's Royal Court Theatre. The Court has been one of Britain's premiere venues for new plays, and Stoppard said he "[didn't] want to fall under a bus before having a play on its stage." Another highlight of the anniversary year will be a rare acting appearance by playwright Harold Pinter, who will perform the role of the "wearyish old man" in a Beckett play. "The Royal Court's illustrious history as Britain's new writing theatre has seen it associated with writers such as Edward Bond, Caryl Churchill, Sir David Hare, Joe Orton and Sam Shepard. In the 1990s the theatre nurtured a new wave of talent, including Sarah Kane, Martin McDonagh and Mark Ravenhill." The Guardian (UK) 10/12/05

Canadian Province To Have A Stake In Rings In an unprecedented move, the provincial government of Ontario has signed on to become an investor in the massive new musical production of The Lord of the Rings, set to open in Toronto in 2006. "Taking on a role traditionally played by impresarios, idealists and other theatrical gamblers, the provincial government will contribute some $2.5 million of the show's $23 million budget, betting that the production's global appeal will justify a unique, and risky, public-private partnership." The province stands to gain a great deal from a successful run - Toronto will have exclusivity for the show through spring 2007 - and while there is some risk involved, government officials expect the show to turn a $40 million profit. The New York Times 10/11/05

Monday, October 10, 2005

Men In Blue The Blue Man Group has become a global brand. "What began as an experimental performance-art trio 14 years ago in the East Village has slowly grown into a small global empire. There are now "Blue Man Group" shows in Manhattan, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and Berlin. Today, Blue Man Theater, a 1,760-seat complex, is to open at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where the group has previously performed at the Luxor hotel. Next month, the Blue Men will begin playing on the West End in London. All this expansion has meant that dozens of new Blue Men must be recruited and trained." The New York Times 10/10/05

Sunday, October 9, 2005

When Actors Take Over From Stars "It used to be the case that you opened with a mega-star and then the casting got less starry as you went on. Nowadays that's totally untrue - quite often you find the person taking over is just as prestigious as the person who created the role in the first place. Actors are no longer loath to take over from someone else. These days what happens is an actor often goes in and recreates the role in his own terms - he doesn't offer a carbon-copy performance, but rethinks the role." BBC 10/9/05

Courting Relevance - Time To Matter The West End's Royal Court Theatre is turning 50. "But there's no getting away from it: the home of angry young men is facing middle-aged spread; its position as standard bearer of the new is under threat." The Observer (UK) 10/09/05

New Volley Of Plays Take On The Iraq War "As the Iraq war approaches year three, a new volley of war-themed plays is landing on the stages of the United States and Britain, the countries that led the assault on Saddam Hussein. Most express strong opposition to U.S. and British policies. Many of these scripts will surely have a short shelf life. But most of the playwrights say that the theater offers ways of thinking and feeling about the war that go deeper than the images on TV — and that the communal experience of theatergoing is likelier to change attitudes than the solitary experience of looking at a screen." Los Angeles Times 10/09/05

Is Stratford Sick Under The Surface? Ontario's Stratford Festival "currently has the ruddy bloom of financial fitness in its cheeks." But Richard Ouzounian writes that "a distressing number of voices feel that its artistic arteries are clogged to the danger point." Toronto Star 10/09/05

Friday, October 7, 2005

Will Oprah's Name Alone Be Enough To Sell Purple? When Oprah Winfey announced that she was contributing $1 million towards the production costs of the upcoming Broadway production of The Color Purple (Winfrey starred in the movie version of Alice Walker's acclaimed novel,) the show's producers saw stars in the shape of dollar signs dancing before them. But while the Oprah branding (which is now prominently trumpeted in every ad for the show) has helped advance sales, it hasn't yet turned into the fiscal windfall some expected. "Conventional wisdom is that as soon as Oprah starts plugging The Color Purple regularly on her television show, the box office will take off. But there are some red flags here that are worth waving." New York Post 10/07/05

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Inside The National's Theatre Lab It's a facility designed to emcourage experimentation. "This ethos - encouraging people to throw around ideas, and paying them for the privilege - is the driving force behind the whole building. Aside from the two big spaces, the Studio comprises a huddle of small offices in which writers, directors and composers can do anything they like. What these people are given is 'a room, a computer, a telephone, free coffee and a weekly wage'. What they aren't burdened with is an expectation to 'perform'." The Guardian (UK) 10/06/05

Monday, October 3, 2005

Record Breaker - Missing It About "Les Mis" "When Les Misérables turns 20 this weekend it looks likely to become the longest running musical of all time, on course to overtake Cats next year and, on the evidence of one night last week, still inspiring people to squeeze a little tear for Eponine and applaud the noble forbearance of Jean Valjean." The question is - Why? The Guardian (UK) 10/04/05

Denver Center's New Look Director What kind of changes will mark Kent Thompson's new regime at the Denver Center Theatre Company? "Some kind of change not only was coming, but necessary. But how sweeping that change should be to one of the nation's few remaining resident regional theater companies would be only Thompson's second major test. The first had been how he would craft an 11-play season that would invigorate the company with more urgent and underrepresented voices." Denver Post 10/02/05

NYT's Ben Brantley On The State Of Theatre: "On Broadway, I think reviews are less and less relevant. So much of the Broadway audience now is tourists, who want to approximate the experience of going to a theme park. At the moment we are in the midst of 'the theatre of celebrity'. If you can get a star, preferably from TV or the movies, and especially if they are willing to take their clothes off - you are guaranteed a hit." BBC 10/03/05

Sunday, October 2, 2005

What Oprah means To A Broadway "Color Purple" "Twenty years and 49 million regular viewers later, Winfrey's sudden and unexpected endorsement of the upcoming musical version of that very same Alice Walker story has propelled what was looking like a midtier Broadway opening heavily dependent on positive reviews into a critic-proof international megahit. Oprah's impact on a Broadway show is unknown territory -- Winfrey has never before formally got behind a Broadway show (or any other piece of theater, for that matter)." Chicago Tribune 10/02/05

The West End's Old Shoes London's West End is stuffed full of Old Chestnut revivals. "All the big musical shows are designed to make audiences feel safe about going to the theatre. This is a valid, indeed admirable, function of the art form; most people don’t want to buy a £50 ticket for the shock of the new. We hanker after entertainment as a comfort zone. But there is a danger that by leaving new work almost entirely to the subsidised and fringe theatres, the West End will prosper only as a money-making mausoleum." Financial Times (UK) 09/30/05

Performing Arts Centers Team Up To Develop New Plays Minnesota's Ordway Theatre is joining four other comparable nonprofit performing arts centers in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Hartford, Connecticut, to form Five Cent Productions "to develop new works of musical theater and breathe new life into the art form. 'The industry has come to rely on the retread, on the revival. People are tired now of seeing the revivals. I mean, these are great classic works of Americana. But people need to see new things'." Minneota Public Radio 10/01/05

Where Are The Women Playwrights? (Why Don't We See Them On Our Stages?) Despite critical acclaim, women playwrights are badly represented on American stages. "During the 2003-04 season 21 percent of professionally produced plays in the United States were written by women; during 2004-05, the number dropped again to 19 percent. The absolute numbers aren't changing. There's simply a kind of schizophrenia in the theater managements. I think that despite the evidence, artistic directors have a strong conviction that plays by women don't sell'." San Diego Union-Tribune 10/02/05

Parental Advisory How do you recommend theatre to children? It's not an absolute. There are many things to account for: "how mature he is relative to others his age, what gives her nightmares or whether the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber would make them start speaking in tongues or spit up." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 10/02/05

Avoiding The "M" Word A venerable superstition has struck again — that it's bad luck for theater artists to utter the name "Macbeth." Amanda McBroom's solo show opening off-Broadway has had the word deleted from its title. "People are afraid of the word. The arcana is intense."
Los Angeles Times 10/02/05

What Does The New Vegas Broadway Mean? "If it isn't already, Las Vegas will soon be the second city of Broadway, home to more New York musicals than any market outside Manhattan. If Broadway shows went to Vegas instead of touring, what would happen to the traditional road theaters and their customers? More saliently, what would happen to their backers, who are often investors in New York productions? If they were outflanked by casino operators, how would that alter the kinds of shows that make it to Broadway in the first place? For even though the tail of touring had to some degree wagged the dog of Broadway for years, Vegas now threatened to clone a new dog entirely. A big dog with sequins." The New York Times 10/02/05

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