Random Thoughts on This and That

Well, it’s certainly been a busy week. Fringe is well underway and invigorating the month of August. Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch have brought renewed interest to a mostly humdrum revival of A Little Night Music. Kelsey Grammer is to be a father for the fifth time. The folks on All That Chat took the opportunity to go open season on the actor; however, I will take this opportunity to offer the La Cage Aux Folles star my heartiest congratulations. Race and Fela! have both posted their closing notices, however, the latter will go out with some added star quality when Patti LaBelle replaces Lillias White for the remainder of the run. I’m a bit disappointed to see Fela! announcing its notice this early, as it was one of the best things I saw last season but it will live on in London with an HD broadcast from the National Theatre. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf brings its production of August: Osage County to Australia. Previews start this week at Cate Blanchett’s Sydney Theatre Company.

The biggest show of the coming season (physically and financially) will be Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which has set its opening for December 21. It’s been a very pernicious gestation from the very first day – rumors about its projected budget, weekly running costs, bad producing and cast members coming and going have not done much to assuage investors or convince Broadwayites. However, a steady team seems to be in place and the show is getting ready to at long last get its legs. The score is by Bono and the Edge, direction by Julie Taymor, so it’s not like this isn’t going to be worth the wait: regardless of the outcome, it should prove interesting. Tickets are on sale and it looks to be a go.

However, it’s the theatre itself that I’m more interested in this week. Garth Drabinsky ripped apart the Apollo and Lyrics and assembled them into one giant performance space, originally called the Ford Center for the Performing Arts when it opened its doors in 1998 (with Ragtime). Then in 2005, it became the Hilton Theatre. Now Foxwoods Casino has teamed up with Live Nation, who operates the space to give their name to the theatre for a period of three years. They’ve immediately gone live with the new website for the theatre and even offer the opportunity to rent the lobby for a private affair. I don’t mind the idea, but it’s being promoted in a way that can only be described as tacky. The jury is still out as to whether the theatre will house a money-maker.

It’s the corporate hand that bothers me in all this. I know – it’s a business, I get that. But it just seems unsettling to me to see an corporation name on a theatre when one of the great rare honors for a theatre artist is his or her name above the marquee. For instance, I never once referred to the Winter Garden as the Cadillac Winter Garden when there was a sponsorship agreement. However, I was thrilled when Stephen Sondheim received the honor on the occasion of his 80th birthday. (The late, great Helen Hayes received the honor twice. When the first Helen Hayes was razed in the great Marriot massacre of 1982, it was decided that the Fulton would be named for her. Her quip: “Oh it’s so good to be a theatre again”).

Word comes through the pipeline that Ryan Murphy is adapting his hit TV series Glee for Broadway. I have to make a confession: I don’t really like the series. I watched the first 13 episodes so I could have an idea what was going on – and to know what the folks in the twitterverse and blogosphere were talking about. But, much to everyone’s surprise – especially mine – it has left me rather cold. It’s not the cast, for sure, but the uneven, inconsistent writing and the overuse of autotune. It got to the point where I was skipping to the end of the musical numbers to get through the scenes (but boy, can Amber Riley belt like it’s nobody’s business). One other minor quibble – they are not a glee club, they’re a show choir. I can’t help but feel that I would have liked the enterprise a lot more had it been a 90 minute feature film than a full length, hour long TV series.

Back to the original statement – in spite of my feeling about the series I’m not against a Broadway version. I just think they should wait. The series has only completed one full season and has an overlying arc that has yet to be determined. At this point, a Broadway show based on the series might just be too much too soon.

I have recently started reading two new blogs. Both are by women who have had important careers in performing arts. The first belongs to Tony-winner Phyllis Newman, who’s frank, amusing and anecdotal about events in her life and her career. She has experienced a lot both as a performer and also as Mrs. Adolph Green, sharing anecdotes about famous friends and memories. Ms. Newman is the sort of person you would want at your table at a dinner party.

The other belongs to Emily Frankel. The name might not be too familiar to you, but you certainly know her husband: one John Cullum. I discovered this blog entirely by accident. Now Emily has achieved great success on her own: dancer, choreographer, director, actress, writer. She’s pretty much done it all. I was doing research on Cullum when I discovered a video blog with the two of them, they create a new one every week. On top of the video posts, Emily writes honestlyand openly about anything and everything that might be on her mind and makes for some engaging conversation – and she’s a really lovely lady.

Speaking of Cullum, the two time Tony winner will be back on Broadway in the upcoming transfer of Kander & Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys at the Lyceum. When the show played off-Broadway at the Vineyard it got a less than stellar review from the NY Times, but it was the first time a negative notice only made me want to see a show more. However, other notices are much more positive, including raves from its current berth at the Guthrie. There are many other shows and stars I’m looking forward to, a sort of anticipation I didn’t quite feel last season (and those shows I did anticipate all closed prematurely). Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at Lincoln Center, as well as revivals of Driving Miss Daisy, You Can’t Take It with You, La Bete and Mrs. Warren’s Profession. And this is just the fall.