The last new production of the 2013-14 Broadway season opened Thursday night with the familiar visage of Alan Cumming in whiteface, peering through the slotted entrance to the Kit Kat Klub in the revived revival of Cabaret. With his eyes blacked, his lips pursed and his nipples peeking from behind braces, the Scottish actor looks little changed from the Emcee role he began essaying under the tutelage of director Sam Mendes in 1993 at London’s Donmar Warehouse (and nothing at all like Cummings’ cunning Eli Gold of The Good Wife).
The other current draw is the Sally Bowles of Michelle Williams, game, gamine but miscast in her Broadway debut. Playing an almost-good siren can be tougher than playing the real thing. Williams just might be too fearless and fresh-faced to get under Sally’s brittle skin. Nevertheless, the Roundabout Theatre Company is hawking tickets to the solid production through next year.
The Tony nominations will be announced Tuesday morning (yes, we’ll be there), with some 44 new productions in the running. More important than that number is the amount of money — I’ll put it at least $60 million — riding on the choices of the 30-odd nominators (some odder than others, to be sure) and the 800-plus voters. This is, after all, the season in which $85 million Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark stuttered and shuttered at a loss, and already it’s hard to remember such current-season fiascoes as Big Fish, Soul Doctor and A Time To Kill. More telling, only five shows new to the season are doing better than 90% of their box office potential, according to the Broadway League, and four are revivals: the dazzling Denzel Washington in A Raisin In The Sun (the leader at 119%), Cameron Mackintosh’s return with Les Miserables (103.25%), the Neil Patrick Harris stunner Hedwig And The Angry Inch (98.25%), and the James Franco-Chris O’Dowd buddy show Of Mice And Men (91.52%). The only new show doing near-sellout business is the Carole King catalog show Beautiful (93.9%). Meanwhile, ambitious new musicals such as The Bridges Of Madison County and A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder can’t get arrested (33.75% and 56.85%, respectively). Harsh.
I’m immersed in an advance copy of John Lahr’s capacious, insight-heavy book Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage Of The Flesh, which will be published in September by W.W. Norton. Lahr has delivered that rare thing: a critical biography worthy of its subject. It’s as full of insight and overview as it is of memorable offstage detail. Here he is, for example, on A Streetcar Named Desire: “Part of Stanley’s sexual charge is the wallop of his selfishness, which registered the spiritual shift after America’s return to [post-war] normalcy. … Liberated from duty, from sacrifice, from class restrictions –- all the emotional baggage that Blanche brings with her, represented by the loss of the family plantation, the well-named Belle Reve -– each character pursues his own creaturely self-interest.” Precisely.
What a difference a month makes! On March 14, that pesky, perspicacious NY Post columnist Michael Riedel wrote: “RAT-a-tat-tat! That machine-gun fire you hear coming from the St. James Theatre is the sound of a hit. Bullets Over Broadway has been in previews just three days, and already those in the know — that would be me! — are sensing it’s the show to beat this season.” And here he was four weeks later: “Bullets gets a pat on the back for being the only musical comedy of the season, but it ain’t Guys And Dolls. Or The Producers. Or Hairspray. Or Young Frankenstein. (Scratch that last one. I’m just being bitchy.)”
Last week, Bullets rang up 64.25% of its box-office potential.
Two major Broadway revivals are in the works from veteran producers: My Fair Lady and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. I don’t do casting forecasting, so in the spirit of the Macy’s Santa in Miracle On 34th Street, I’ll send you to the competition. Send your choices to my friend Michael, care of the Post.