UPDATE, Friday night: Helen Hayes co-owner Jeffrey Tick told Deadline tonight that a closing on the sale of the theater is in the works. “With the help and oversight of Justice Joan Kenney, the parties are working together towards closing the sale,” Tick said. “An extension was given towards that end with compensation for the delay to be paid to Helen Hayes Theatre.”
The fate of Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre remains in flux after New York State Supreme Court Judge Joan M. Kenny ordered the disputing sides to work out a compromise with her help. At issue is whether co-owners Jeffrey Tick and Martin Markinson will close on the $24.7 million sale of 579-seat Hayes to the nonprofit Second Stage Theatre, or hold on to the suddenly hot property. The deal was made in 2008 between the highly regarded nonprofit (launching pad for Next To Normal and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, among others) and the owners, who hadn’t found any buyers among Broadway’s Big Three landlords, the Shubert and Nederlander organizations and Jujamcyn Theatres.
But smaller houses have become more attractive in the interregnum. Higher ticket prices for star-driven shows are a key factor: The Bradley Cooper-starring revival of The Elephant Man will wrap its 16-week limited run this weekend at the 774-seat Booth (a Shubert house), having recouped its $3.1 million capitalization costs in less than two months and regularly breaking the house record for sales, helped by an average ticket price in the $160 to $180 range. Earlier in the season, Broadway royalty Hugh Jackman and company chose the 700-seat Circle In The Square (which is independently owned) for that show’s brief, profitable visit. Added to that, the Hayes was home to a lucrative run of Rock Of Ages, which got a new lease on life after moving to the Hayes from the larger Brooks Atkinson.
If Second Stage prevails, it will doubtless pay some of the costs by selling naming rights to the Helen Hayes. That would be a shame.
The recent closing of Rock Of Ages prompted the owners to tell Second Stage the time had come to close the deal, but the message was mixed. Jeffrey Tick admits he’s had a change of heart and wants to continue running the house himself (presumably after buying out partner Markinson, who told me he’s amenable). For its part, Second Stage is determined to secure a Broadway base that will make its shows eligible for Tony Awards. Artistic director Carole Rothman took a hard hit last summer when the money behind the new Duncan Sheik musical American Psycho decided, after a heralded London opening, to pull it from the Second Stage calendar and go right to Broadway, presumably with star Benjamin Walker. Producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel have a fall, 2015 opening in mind.
If Second Stage prevails, it will doubtless pay some of the costs by selling naming rights to the theater. That would be a shame, unless a benefactor comes through with the noble idea of dropping $10 million or so to keep Helen Hayes’ moniker on the marquee. The First Lady of the American Theater deserves the honor; the original, and beautiful, Helen Hayes Theatre was bulldozed (along with the Morosco and the Bijou theaters) in 1982 to make way for the hideous Marriot Marquee, a hotel with all the charm of an AT&T Long Lines building). Of course, Broadway theaters get name changes all the time; the old Helen Hayes was originally the Folies-Bergere and then the Fulton; the new Helen Hayes was formerly The Little Theatre. Still…
SPEAKING OF NAMES, Sandy Weill is retiring as chairman of the board of Carnegie Hall after 32 years since starting as a trustee of the joint. He’ll be replaced by Ron Perelman, whose tastes run to the kind of music Carnegie championed in the ’30s and ’40s along with the longhair stuff: pop, folk and jazz. Doubtless that’s music to the ears of Carnegie artistic and executive director Clive Gillinson.
I COME OUT ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE of many colleagues on two recent openings: Robert Falls’ visually and intellectually thrilling revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, imported to the Brooklyn Academy Of Music from Chicago’s Goodman Theatre (where Falls is longtime artistic director) has plenty to recommend it: Brian Dennehy’s quietly virile, solidly anchored performance as Larry Slade, the “Foolosopher” among the sorry sots at Harry Hope’s desolate saloon; Stephen Ouimette’s quietly desperate Harry himself, and especially the searing Joe Mott of John Douglas Thompson, a great actor in the play’s most complicated role, a proud black man with dashed dreams, a blade at the ready, and only so much tolerance for the epithets tossed his way, whether in casual bigotry or outright hate.
What this Iceman doesn’t have is a credible Hickey. Nathan Lane may be too identified as a comic actor to pull off the role of the traveling salesman who shows up for his semi-annual visits, dispensing drinks on the house and tall tales after one of the longest buildups this side of Godot. This time, the time of the play, is different, for when Hickey finally does show (an hour and 40 minutes in), he’s on the wagon and on a mission — to relieve Harry and his patrons of the “pipe dreams” that keep them going from one drunk to the next.
Lane sails through the play’s nearly five hours leading up to Hickey’s Big Reveal and nervous breakdown, but he didn’t bring me with him on the journey. The play is overwrought and repetitive and requires an act of faith on the part of the actor playing Hickey that his success in converting the sorry denizens of Harry’s bar will effect his own absolution; his failure in that effort is the play’s tragedy. Among the Hickeys I’ve spent time with, Jason Robards and James Earl Jones understood that. Kevin Spacey, and now Nathan Lane, did not.
LINCOLN CENTER THEATERS INVALUABLE CLAIRE TOW space has become one of the city’s most reliable bets for exciting new work. And occasionally not-so-exciting, which was how I found Nick Jones’ new play, Verité. It concerns Jo Darum (Anna Camp, who was sensational opposite Daniel Radcliffe in an Equus revival and has had recurring roles on The Good Wife and True Blood, among others), a young mom who’s been struggling to finish her dopey fantasy novel while raising her kid and putting up with her Ralph Kramden-like husband (he even drives a bus), played by Danny Wolohan.
A mysterious pair of publishers (Matt McGrath and Robert Sella, with funny socks and accents) offer Jo a $50,000 advance, not for her terrible book, but for her memoir. They like her voice, they say. What ensues felt a little 2005 to me: Pushed to make her life interesting, she becomes convinced that a chance encounter with Winston (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Allison William’s loathsome new beau on Girls) was orchestrated by the editors to make her spice up her life. But did they? Jones wants to keep us uncertain, but I found the back-and-forth between reality and fantasy, between being attuned to signals and sheer paranoia, merely irritating. Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s unsteady direction didn’t help. The night I saw the show, the acting—particularly Moss-Bachrach’s—was faltering to the point of leadenness and none of the characters seemed to connect.