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A CurtainUp Feature
That Was the Year that Was. . .
By Elyse Sommer
And so, that was the year that was, and all that's left is for CurtainUp's two cents about shows to remember for being awful or awesome, hits or misses.
If you'll forgive the wordplay, no doubt about it that John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt is THE freshly minted play with the legs to sustain a season spanning run even with Cherry Jones and Brian F. OByrne ending their award winning runs as Sister Aloyisus and Father Flynn. Wendy Wasserstein's best play in a while, Third , has been extended at Lincoln Center through February 18th and we wish the ailing playwright a return to health so that she can write more and even better plays.
A memorable new play imported from London that lacked the box office pull of Doubt was Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman. Though gone from Broadway, you can count on it to show up at many a regional theaters.
Play Time has, as always, has been mostly re-play time and some of those re-plays have been pretty darn good: Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin pumped plenty of energy into Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and more recently, we had a beautifully staged revival of the lesser known Seascape -- though good reviews have not prevented an early closing. While other big name revivals like Mamet's Glen Gary Glen Ross and David Rabe's Hurly Burly have come and gone, my own favorite re-play, the New Group's terrific production of British playwright and film maker Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party has been extended so you have until February 11th to see it.
And before we leave British imports, the prolific Alan Ayckbourn's Private Fears Public Places was not only the highlight of the Brits Off-Broadway Festival at 59E59 but was one of the best plays seen on any stage in New York. It's too bad that Manhattan Theatre Club, which draws a much larger audience and for longer runs, wasn't able to make this production which satisfied on every count -- text, acting, staging -- their Ayckbourn offering instead of the far less satisfying Absurd Person Singular.
This is as good a place as any to mention two venues which have become regular destinations for discriminating theater-goers, often launching small plays that offer big rewards: 1. 59E59Street, offers a constant array of interesting fare in its three spaces. Besides the above-mentioned Brit Festival, it was the launching pad (by Primary Stages) of a surprise mini-hit In the Continuum which led to an additional booking at the Perry Street Theater, where you can catch it until January 14th. 2. The Culture Center at 45 Bleeker Street also offers consistently interesting plays in its two theaters -- among them Warren Leight's moving No Foreigners Beyond This Point. A Bleeker Street hit from a few seasons back, Sarah Jones' Bridge and Tunnel, will be opening for a limited Broadway run shortly.
Of the two most lyrical new musicals The Light In The Piazza and See What I Wanna See, only Piazza is still on the boards (it just extended again through next July). The big little hit that we've followed from its modest beginnings at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires, is of course The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee . While the mega-hit success of Spamalot surprised no one, the remarkably appealing and entertaining Jersey Boys, The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons did. I'll have to admit that I went expecting to feel ho-hum about it and ended up enjoying it immensely. It seems to have taken the jinx off the critics favorite genre to kick into oblivion (deservedly so for Lennon and Good Vibrations, less so for All Shook Up).
As for musical revivals, the latest incarnation of Sondheim's bloody Sweeney Todd could almost be considered a new musical in its intimate and ingeniously reinveted format -- with performers doubling as the orchestra. Wonderful doesn't begin to do this justice.
THEATRICAL ENTREPRENEURS WHO CONTINUE TO DESERVE OUR SUPPORT
Jonathan Bank whose Mint Theater continues not just to retrieve little known theatrical treasures from dead storage but to give them handsome and sensitive productions. His most recent restored treasure: Dawn Powell's Walking Down Broadway.
The New York Music Festival which for the last two Septembers has had New York abuzz with musical workshops New Yorkers might not otherwise see. Some, like Altar Boyz move on, but there are also less commercially viable but still well worth seeing shows -- my own favorites last September being Richard Corey and Orphan Train.
Scott Siegel's Broadway by the Year series at Town Hall. With their star-studded, big-voiced casts and Siegel's informative commentary these events are true labors of love. Though only on for one night, they have justifiably won a steady audience -- including yours truly.