Gurney's Inn
May 02, 2007

Rash of New Plays for Theater Lovers

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Broadway is abuzz, because April ushers in late minute arrivals vying for Tony Award credentials with marquee names attached.

Earlier this month, the creative team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg introduced theatergoers to real-life 16th century Irish rebel Grace O'Malley, better known as The Pirate Queen. Tempering Riverdance techniques with modern moves, star Stephanie J. Block commands her crew atop a massive ship deck as it rocks to the rhythms of a tempest sea at the Hilton Theatre.

Arriving that first week in April was Inherit the Wind, with Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer presenting opposing sides of the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial" at the Lyceum Theatre, along with a remounting of Eugene O'Neill's melancholy A Moon for the Misbegotten at Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Imported from London's Old Vic, Kevin Spacey and British actress Eve Best made the transatlantic leap.

In a face-off drawn from real life, Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon recreates the 1977 televised interviews with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprising their roles after a successful run on England's West End. The battle of wits occurs nightly at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Making last minute tweaks and changes are the season's final six leading off with Legally Blonde, a live theater incarnation of Reese Witherspoon's 2001 chick lit movie at the Palace Theatre which opened last Sunday.

Pink, the signature color of Elle Woods, figures prominently in the costume designs by Gregg Barnes and confectionary sets of David Rockwell. Hairspray alum Laura Bell Bundy steps into the role of a California coed transformed into a Harvard University legal eagle.

Think Dickens turned up a notch, when Coram Boy takes up residency at the Imperial Theatre today. Lifted from the pages of a 2000 young adult piece of fiction by Jamila Gavin, this sprawling tale of child slavery, aristocracy and murder is underscored by an onstage 20-member choir and seven musicians performing the music of Handel (a character in the story).

Despite the play's literary source, the tale's darker elements make it inappropriate for youngsters under 12. Although void of star power, Coram Boy has the National Theater's pedigree, the same origins as last year's Tony winning British import History Boys.

Striking a harmonious note, Tony winners Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy share top billing in LoveMusik, opening tomorrow at the Biltmore Theatre. "Suggested" by the letters exchanged between the intellectual German composer Kurt Weill, and his star/muse Lotte Lenya, their tumultuous love affair spanned 25 years and several international locales including Berlin and Paris, plus Broadway and Hollywood. The play is the first collaboration between the Pulitzer Prize winning Alfred Uhry and director Hal Prince since 1998's Parade.

Winding the season down on a dramatic note, Terrence McNally's Deuce focuses on a pair of retired tennis pros watching a U.S. Open doubles match. Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes exchange personal barbs about their own careers and long-standing personal issues. The match begins Sunday at the Music Box Theatre.

Guaranteed to spark topical debates, Radio Golf stars Harry Lennix as a politician running for office in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. The candidate's victory is seriously threatened by a dark secret from the past. Tonya Pinkins portrays his wife and campaign manager in the 10th and final installment of August Wilson's chronicle of African-American life in the 20th century. Directed by Kenny Leon, Radio Golf opens Saturday at the Cort Theatre.

The anticipation of spinsterhood deflates Lizzie Curry's self-confidence, until a con man named Bill Starbuck arrives in drought-stricken Texas during the Depression. The plot is straight from N. Richard Nash's 1954 play The Rainmaker, but 110 in the Shade adds another element music by composer Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones of The Fantasticks fame.

Last seen on the Great White Way in 1963, the revival of Nash's musical adaptation stars Audra McDonald. John Cullum costars as Lizzie's dad, with Steve Kazee, who last appeared as Sir Lancelot in Monty Python's Spamalot ignites the passion at Studio 54 next Wednesday, the Tony Awards deadline.

The 61st annual Tony Awards ceremony will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall by CBS beginning at 8 p.m. June 10. Even before the ballots are mailed to eligible voters, Broadway producers are already in the process of jockeying venues for new arrivals like Grease that begins previews July 24 for an August 19 arrival at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.

Television viewers have a vested interest in this revival after voting for Laura Osnes and Max Crumm on NBC's "Grease: You're the One That I Want" reality show to star as Sandy and Danny.

Like "Grease," an instantly recognized brand name is a proven gateway to Broadway. Among the screen-to-stage adaptations this fall are Young Frankenstein, and The Little Mermaid, while Billy Elliott, Shrek, and A Catered Affair are expected to follow in 2008.

Swelling those ranks further, Catch Me If You Can, Ever After, Cry Baby, Father of the Bride, Nine to Five, and Leap of Faith are reportedly in development.

The biggest announcement during the past week is the news that Bono and the Edge from U2 will be penning the score for a stage adaptation of Spider-Man. Joining the creative team for the $15 million budgeted musical will be director Julie Taymor. Details are sketchy. The only progress, so far, is a reading slated for this summer.

Considering the PG-rated material sources, it appears that Broadway is making a concerted effort to cultivate a younger, more mainstream audience. The major hurdle, however, are the stiff ticket prices.

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