arts 09.7.07

Inside Theater

By George Spelvin

OPENING UP PANDORA'S "BOX": Since 1941, the Music Box Theater (named for its inaugural show, a musical revue by Irving Berlin) has been co-owned by Berlin and the Shuberts. After the songwriter died in 1989, his three daughters inherited his 50% interest in the venue and held onto it for almost two decades. Thus it was a shock when Berlin's daughters recently sold their valuable share to the Shuberts, who made a generous offer the women couldn't refuse. But it's not like Berlin's daughters need the money—his songwriting royalties are still worth a lot to them—so why did they decide to sell now? And what is the top secret plan the Shuberts have for the Music Box that would warrant the sky-high buyout?

CYRANO, THANKS: The upcoming revival of Cyrano de Bergerac stars Kevin Kline, continuing his quest to play every major classical theater role, Jennifer Garner, whose sole Broadway credit to date was as an understudy in the 1995 revival of A Month in the Country, and Daniel Sunjata, Tony-nominated for his performance in 2003's Take Me Out. But Sunjata wasn't the original choice to play the role of handsome, inarticulate Christian. Movie star Brendan Fraser (pictured) was supposed to play the part until he was convinced the role was a thankless one, compared to Kline's showier character. Instead, I'm told Fraser will star in a planned Broadway transfer of the new comedy Elling, a surprise hit on London's West End.

AND SPEAKING OF LONDON: Five years after it opened in New York, Hairspray will finally open in London next month at the Shaftesbury Theatre. It's an unfortunate choice of venue, however, as that place has been dogged by bad karma ever since part of the ceiling fell down during a 1973 performance of the musical Hair. Over the last four decades, a string of popular shows (including Tommy, Rent and Thoroughly Modern Millie) have had disappointingly short runs there. Will Hairspray be the one to break the curse or is this London transfer getting the shaft(esbury)?

STYX-TO-IT-NESS: Despite a 4-year run in Berlin, Disney's stage musical of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (written by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz and directed by James Lapine) has never made it to Broadway. But a singing Quasimodo may yet come to New York, if rocker Dennis DeYoung (pictured) has his way. He wrote his own Hunchback musical and it premiered at a Nashville theater in 1997, garnering strong reviews but no shot at Broadway because Disney—then newly hot on the scene with the just-opened Lion King—was expected to bring its version to New York. Now, after a decade's wait, DeYoung may be getting a second chance when Chicago's Bailiwick Theater presents a new tryout of his show next May. The Styx frontman has never given up on his Broadway dreams, frequently performing numbers from Hunchback in concert (and some songs are included on his recent live recording).

FALL INTO SAVINGS: After Labor Day, theater attendance slows down for a while and to fill the gap, eager marketers are doing all they can to keep butts in seats. The semi-annual "Seasons of Savings" promotion is back again and, in addition to the usual Broadway bargains, you can find tickets as low as $30 for off-Broadway shows. For an even bigger break—between now and September 16th—check out the "20 at 20" deal that offers $20 tickets at twenty minutes before curtain time. You may want to pass on some inexplicably-still-running shows such as Perfect Crime, but you could check out new productions like The Misanthrope at New York Theater Workshop. And if you really want to go crazy, you could take advantage of the more-flexible off-Broadway schedules on Saturday and see Gazillion Bubble Show at 11am, The Fantasticks at 2pm, Forbidden Broadway at 4pm, Altar Boyz at 8pm, and Naked Boys Singing at 10:30pm—all for less than the price of one orchestra seat on Broadway.

EBB AND CASH FLOW: "Money makes the world go around"—as the late Fred Ebb wrote in Cabaret—and thanks to a bequest he made, his money makes more grants go round at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Since 2005, BC/EFA has been the largest beneficiary of Ebb's foundation, which distributes his royalties from the many shows he wrote with John Kander. I've heard that, last year, Ebb's posthumous earnings were worth upwards of $250,000 to BC/EFA. So when you buy a ticket to his currently-running shows Chicago or Curtains, you're also (indirectly) supporting the theater community's on-going response to the worldwide health crisis.

JUST ASKING: In this modern age, why would anyone buy a Broadway cast recording at store prices when you can download shows like Legally Blonde, Grey Gardens or the upcoming revival of Sunday in the Park with George from emusic.com for about six bucks? No wonder Tower Records and Footlights closed down. Also, if you're really frugal, you could simply borrow one of the 506 cast recordings available for free at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Oh, and about that new recording of Sunday in the Park: did you know that one of its Olivier Award-winning stars, Jenna Russell, recorded her songs before she had ever performed the show on stage? It seems she joined the production as it was transferring from a London fringe theater to the West End and the recording was done during the show's hiatus.

park slope

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