arts 04.14.06

Inside Theater

By George Spelvin
It's spring, and in spring a young fan's fancy turns to thoughts of…new musicals. Five are racing to meet the eligibility deadline for the Tonys. Only one can win Best Musical, and there are already two popular contenders from last fall. Can any of these new entries top Jersey Boys or The Color Purple? It's not fair to make a final judgment while a show is still previewing, but since when has that ever stopped theater insiders from talking?

YOU TARZAN…ME JADED? Early audiences at Disney's Tarzan spread bad buzz about David Henry Hwang's clunky book and too many obstructed-view seats, but that's no reason to get jaded about this show's prospects. The Mouse House has brought in a script doctor (on loan from a current Broadway hit) and, thanks to a long preview period with a reduced playing schedule, they have time to improve the script and sightlines. Plus Tarzan already has a $20 million advance, so does it really matter anyway? Remember, Disney's Aida was an awful mess, and it won four Tonys and ran 4Ω years. [Aside to admirers of Tarzan star Josh Strickland: he may have removed his unapproved-by-Mickey Friendster profile, but you can still find some of the sexy photos from a posting here.]

ANOTHER SHOW THAT SUCKS: Have we learned nothing from the recent blood-sucking bombs Dance of the Vampires and Dracula: The Musical? Apparently Elton John hasn't. So get your wooden stakes ready for Lestat, which looks likely to break the composer's decade-long winning streak. John's prior shows are the aforementioned Aida, the gargantuan hit Lion King (moving to the Minskoff in June) and the London blockbuster Billy Elliot. If Lestat is really the flop many anticipate, maybe it will finally get him to rethink his writing methods, since he has been literally phoning it in until now. Sir Elton doesn't collaborate in person; instead, he is said to compose on his own and then play his tunes on the phone to the creative team or e-mail them audio files. Busy with performing in Las Vegas and elsewhere, he doesn't have time to sit in rehearsals or watch previews; apparently, he didn't know Lestat was in trouble until he attended its San Francisco tryout. He knows now.

WHAT'S WORTH SEEING? The Wedding Singer could be the next Hairspray, or so hopes lead producer Margo Lion, who initiated both projects. But for me, The Drowsy Chaperone (parts of which, coincidentally, were first sung at a wedding) is the little show that could succeed. Drowsy, the first Canadian musical to open on Broadway in a quarter-century, has an off-putting title, a questionable ad campaign, and no huge stars in the cast (although Tony winner Sutton Foster is giving a star performance). It's not written or directed by anyone famous and it's not based on a familiar movie. But it's the most enjoyable two hours of musical comedy to hit Broadway since Spamalot — whose choreographer, Casey Nicholaw, is making an impressive directing debut.

By the way, one of Drowsy's breakout songs is the tap number "Cold Feet," and that's the status of things right now for the Rudy Durand musical Hot Feet the unlikely pairing of Hans Christian Anderson's classic tale "The Red Shoes" with the Boogie Wonderland of Earth, Wind & Fire's song catalogue. After the show was mostly panned by critics during its tryout in D.C. last month, its first New York preview was postponed by a few extra days to allow the creators to revise things. To borrow a lyric from Drowsy Chaperone, let's hope it's enough time to make those cold feet hot.

JUST ASKING: When was the last time a director had three shows in the Top 10 list of Broadway's best-selling shows? And when was the last time two of those shows were straight plays? That's what has happened to Joe Mantello, director of Wicked, The Odd Couple and Three Days of Rain, which collectively sold $3 million worth of tickets last week. The Odd Couple, however, is beginning to soften a bit. In the first week of its extended run (it was originally announced as a limited engagement), the show dropped $150,000, but it's still playing to capacity; they just sold far fewer of those outrageously-priced "premium" seats. Attention bargain hunters: The Odd Couple is offering some mezzanine tickets at TKTS and online for as little as $40 at Wednesday and Thursday performances. Get 'em while you can.
Meanwhile, Downtown…
The Naked Angels theater company is back on an upswing with newly installed artistic director Jenny Gersten guiding the Angels' 20th season. Beginning tomorrow night and running through May 13 is the premiere of a new play by Elizabeth Meriwether (Heddatron) called The Mistakes Madeline Made, a comedy about a young woman who develops ablutophobia — the fear of bathing. It plays at the Culture Project's 45 Below, 45 Bleecker [Lafayette/Bowery] 212.868.4444. Tickets are $35.

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