September 15, 2008

Revivals, New Musicals Buoy Broadway Amid Wave of Cancellations


By Philip Boroff

Bloomberg News

New York

Even after three canceled openings, Broadway is not looking bare.

Fourteen new productions are scheduled through mid-December, about the same as a year ago, with an emphasis on new musicals, including "Billy Elliot," and revivals of plays such as "Equus."

"The shows were booked before there were no bonuses on Wall Street," said Emanuel Azenberg, a 74-year-old Broadway producer and general manager who has worked on more than 150 productions. "The new shows better be good, or they'll open and close."

Highlights include the 1973 Peter Schaffer drama "Equus," with 19- year-old "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe in a now-infamous nude scene in a stable with Broadway hottie Anna Camp; Robert Bolt's 1961 "A Man for All Seasons" with three-time Tony Award-winner Frank Langella, who most recently was Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon"; and two David Mamet revivals opening within a month of each other. They are "American Buffalo" with John Leguizamo and Haley Joel Osment (of the 1999 spooky movie "The Sixth Sense") and "Speed the Plow" with Jeremy Piven ("Entourage") and Raul Esparza.

"It's an extraordinarily full fall season," said Andrew Hamingson, the managing director of off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Co. The Atlantic is staging Beau Willimon's "Farragut North," a drama about an ambitious young press secretary during a presidential primary.

Last month producers announced they were postponing a revival of "Godspell" indefinitely owing to the loss of an unnamed investor. Revivals of "Brigadoon" and "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf" were also put off, with "Brigadoon" canceling a Boston tryout.

Ben Sprecher, a lead producer of "American Buffalo," said raising $2.6 million for his show wasn't an undue struggle. "My experience is, when a show is right, it gets financed."

Sprecher said producers are banking on a continued influx of tourists, who jam sidewalks around Times Square. "This place is packed with foreign tourists and Americans who don't want to go to Europe," he said.

"Billy Elliot," a London import with music by Elton John and based on the 2000 film about the son of a coal miner who dreams of ballet, is the busiest seller among new shows. For the first preview, Oct. 1, the only available seats, save for $311 premium tickets, are in the rear mezzanine. A hunt on for "Equus" found ample tickets available for weeknight performances.

Hamingson, who becomes executive director of the Public Theater in October, cautioned against reading too much into the number of productions for clues about the economy.

"It has more to do with the business of Broadway," he said. "A number of things were in development and happened to come together."

A husband-and-wife producing team spent nine years raising $16 million to put on "A Tale of Two Cities," a musical based on the Charles Dickens novel. It opens Thursday.

Three weeks later comes "13," by Jason Robert Brown and Dan Elish, about a 13-year-old uprooted from New York to Indiana. Cast with teenagers and an onstage adolescent rock band, it premiered in January 2007 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and was shepherded to New York by Bob Boyett, a former television executive and ubiquitous Broadway presence.

October brings Chekhov's "The Seagull," starring Peter Sarsgaard and Kristin Scott Thomas, as well as Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," with Katie Holmes, John Lithgow and Patrick Wilson.

Opening the following month is "Dividing the Estate," 92-year- old playwright Horton Foote's first Broadway outing in a decade, with daughter Hallie Foote and Elizabeth Ashley.

On Nov. 14, previews begin for standard bearers "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" and Rodgers and Hart's "Pal Joey" at Studio 54.

The new entity DreamWorks Theatricals is betting its green- monster musical, "Shrek," will fare better than last season's "Young Frankenstein," which offered now-notorious $450 prime seats on weekends and then abandoned them as sales slowed.

Revivals of "West Side Story" and "Guys and Dolls" are on offer in early 2009, plus "9 to 5," a new show with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton.

Besides a possible transfer of "Hair" from Central Park, other Broadway prospects are "Road Show" by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, at the Public; "Minsky's," with music by Charles Strouse ("Annie") at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre; Manhattan Theatre Club's charming musical "Romantic Poetry," by John Patrick Shanley ("Doubt") and Henry Krieger ("Dreamgirls"); and Michael Weller's "Fifty Words," presented by MCC Theater.

"Didn't you hear?" said Stewart Lane, a producer of "The 39 Steps" and "American Buffalo.""It's the new golden age of theater."

Originally published by BY PHILIP BOROFF.

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