shopping 07.7.06

Cool Design

The newly introduced Piaggio BV500 is ideal, according to the company, for navigating and escaping city streets. This machine makes us throw all critical judgment to the wind—we just want one. Right now. Suggested retail is $6,199. Available at the Vespa stores in Soho and Long Island City. [Note that when we went to publish, the Piaggio site was down.]

Seeing Zaha Hadid's from-the-future designs on exhibit at the Guggenheim makes us think she's messing with our head. But no such thoughts about the beautiful Crevasse Vase by the architect, on sale in the gift shop and online, $220.

We never tire of the Finnish Kivi votive candle holders, designed in 1988 by Heikki Orvola. They're at Moss, where a set of eight is $272.50. For gentler prices, avoid the premium colors and hit up

Inhabit has introduced some embossed wall tiles, made from molded bamboo paper pulp with peel and stick adhesive tabs. The company says they are "goof-proof." Find out more here and the stores that carry Inhabit products here.

Bodum's Canteen keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold inside its double-wall class, but the outer rim of glass stays comfortable to hold. A set of two is $14.95 at the Bodum store, 413 W. 14th [9th/10th] 212.367.9125.

Youngsters, there used to be something called letters, that you wrote with a pen and then, if you sent them overseas, you'd take them to a post office and ask to send them air mail or par avion if you were in France. The envelopes looked like this, the inspiration for a wallet by Terrence Kelleman, $25, at the MoMA store.

At Environment 337, 337 Smith [Carroll] 718.522.1767, David Barthold proves cheery can still be stylish with his orange interior teacup ($28), tumbler ($38), and bowl ($75).

By George Spelvin

WHITHER OFF-BROADWAY? No fewer than ten theaters—the Century, the Fairbanks, the Houseman, the Lamb's two venues, Manhattan Ensemble Theater, Perry Street, Playhouse 91, the Promenade, and the Variety Arts—have all recently closed or are about to shutter. Some argue this is the inevitable result of competition from newer places like the Little Shubert, 37 Arts and New World Stages. But those places are struggling to book new shows, too. As Ben Sprecher, who owned the Promenade and Variety Arts, told Crain's New York Business, "This is as difficult a time as I've seen Off-Broadway in 25 years."

Things aren't any easier at Off-Broadway's non-profit houses, where even high-profile institutions worry about how they're going to pay their bills. And some theater insiders are wondering if money woes are affecting artistic choices. Eduardo Machado, a playwright and head of INTAR Theatre, excoriated his colleagues in a keynote speech at last month's annual meeting of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York: "We have given into the worst kind of greed. The corporate model. And I'm sorry, but our work has suffered because of it."

Personally, I'm not ready to write Off-Broadway's obituary just yet. There are 275+ non-profit companies that remain America's most significant incubator for new plays and young artists, and there are still a number of long-running commercial hits: Blue Man Group, Forbidden Broadway, I Love You, You're Perfect…, Jewtopia, Perfect Crime, Stomp, etc.

Nonetheless, this latest wave of theater closings should be a wake-up call to the industry. Expenses keep growing, but the audience does not. People used to be willing to take a chance on Off-Broadway because it was cheap. While there are still lots of showcase productions with $15 or $20 tickets, more and more Off-Broadway shows have top prices that are nearing (or match) Broadway rates. $66.25 for Pig Farm? $70 for Burleigh Grimes? $75 for The House in Town? Until Off-Broadway can sort out its economic issues, expect to see some more casualties.

By the way, for a reminder of what adventurous audiences saw during Off-Broadway's early years, check out Anthology Film Archives' series "Like Broadway on Mars: Historic New York Experimental Theater" from July 13 through July 17. Their website describes this as "a small survey of documentation and footage by some of the most influential theater-makers of the 60s and 70s."

MEANWHILE, ON BROADWAY: Only 1/3 of last season's new shows were hits, but Broadway reported overall sales of 12 million tickets at an average cost of $71.78—an all-time high, due to a greater number of premium-priced seats. (To me, this is just legalized scalping, but who cares as long as the public is willing to spend $250 a ticket, right?)

Understandably, the upcoming Broadway season brings high expectations and higher anxiety, since there aren't enough theaters for all the shows that want to come to town. Here's the current status of what's going where:

American Airlines: Philip Bosco in Heartbreak House, followed by a 2nd Roundabout show TBA and then Les Liaisons Dangereuses
• Atkinson: Twyla Tharp's Bob Dylan musical The Times They Are A Changin'
• Barrymore: Sondheim/Furth's Company, directed by Sweeney Todd's John Doyle
• Beaumont: Tom Stoppard's trilogy The Coast of Utopia directed by Jack O'Brien
• Biltmore: Jerry Zaks directs Losing Louie, followed by a 2nd MTC show TBA and Odets' The Country Girl
• Booth: Nathan Lane in Simon Gray's Butley directed by Nicholas Martin, followed by Vanessa Redgrave in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking directed by David Hare
• Broadhurst: Les Miserables. Do you hear the people sing for One Day More?
• Helen Hayes: ventriloquist Jay Johnson in The Two and Only
• Hilton: limited holiday engagement of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
• Jacobs: Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, co-created by Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman• Kerr: Christine Ebersole reprises her award-winning performance in Grey Gardens
• Music Box: Julianne Moore in David Hare's The Vertical Hour directed by Sam Mendes
• New Amsterdam: Disney and Cameron Mackintosh present Mary Poppins
• Palace: Legally Blonde, the directorial debut of Jerry Mitchell—Bend-and-Snap!• Schoenfeld: A Chorus Line. The return of Michael Bennett's singular sensation.
• Studio 54: Roundabout show TBA in the fall, followed by Audra McDonald in 110 in the Shade

That leaves only three theaters—the Belasco, Cort and Longacre —without a tenant, and they are considered too small for many shows still hoping for a Broadway home: Cry-Baby, Curtains, High Fidelity, The Homecoming, The Little Dog Laughed, Love/Musik, The Pajama Game, The Pirate Queen (which is likely to follow the Grinch into the Hilton), The Starry Messenger, Thurgood, The Wiz and Zhivago.

As a result, the vultures are circling current shows whose sales are weak or weakening, including Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Hairspray, Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Producers, Rent, Sweeney Todd, Tarzan, and The Wedding Singer. Things are getting tense: the producers of the Grinch musical had the bad manners to announce they were moving into the Hilton in November before the current occupant, Hot Feet, had announced it is closing. But I suppose when you're doing 12 performances a week—like the Grinch is—the normal rules don't apply to you.

"BROADWAY IN BRYANT PARK": The annual lunchtime concert series (somewhat misnamed since it includes both Broadway and off-Broadway shows) kicked off yesterday and continues for the next five Thursdays at 12:30pm. The remaining schedule is:

• July 13: Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast, The Drowsy Chaperone and Drumstruck
• July 20: Shout! The Mod Musical, The Phantom of the Opera, The Color Purple and Wicked
• July 27: The Wedding Singer, Hairspray, Tarzan, and Rent
• August 3: Chicago, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, The Lion King and Monty Python's Spamalot
• August 10: The Fantasticks, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the Actors Fund concert version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

JUST ASKING: The musical of Lord of the Rings is closing in Toronto after Labor Day and will have lost nearly all of its $24 million capitalization. A somewhat revised version has been confirmed to open in London next May at an estimated cost of about $23 million, making it the West End's most expensive musical ever. Exactly how do the show's producers and investors think they can earn back $47 million in start-up costs?

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