2005 Year In Theater

2006 is just days away and it is time for that annual ritual of looking back at the year’s highlights and lowlights. So here they are, the top ten news stories in theater that stood out to me above all the rest of the news.

Break A Leg

It was on, off, and then on again. The revival of Sweet Charity was all set to open on Broadway with a star with virtually no theater experience, Christina Applegate. On March 11th with one tryout in the can and one ongoing, disaster struck when Applegate broke her foot. It was then announced that standby Charlotte d’Amboise would open the musical, and Applegate would make her Broadway debut when her foot healed.

With ticket sales dropping, their star unable to perform, and an unwillingness to finance the production without her, the producers announced that they were canceling the entire run. Applegate, not wanting to give up on her Broadway debut or her hard work made a plea to producer Barry Weissler to keep the show going. Convinced by her, producers changed their minds and announced the production would go on after all with Applegate opening the show at a later date after she healed.

And so it did open on May 4th garnering mixed reviews and decent ticket sales. It would run close to seven months (it will close on December 31st) and 279 performances, on the way earning Tony nominations for Applegate, best revival of a musical, and best choreography.


What A Trouper

Olivier winner Maria Friedman was all set to make her Broadway debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest London transfer, The Woman in White, when it was announced on November 3rd that she would be leaving the production to undergo surgery for stage one breast cancer. She would return in time for the musical’s opening night though.

Not only did she return in time, but began performances just one week later.

Now that’s what I call dedication.


Broadway Lights Dim

The theater lost two of its most important playwrights this year, Arthur Miller and August Wilson.

Miller died on February 11th at the age of 89 at his home in Connecticut with his family and friends by his side.

Wilson lost his battle with liver cancer at the young age of sixty on October 2nd.

Each expressed their feelings and experiences through their works. Miller with such famous plays as Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A View From the Bridge and Wilson with his cycle of 10 plays chronicling the plights of African Americans through the 20th century. Each has touched someone differently with his words. Their works have graced the stages of many theaters and I am sure will for years more to come.


The Golden Duo Sells Out.. Again

What spells box office gold more than Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick? Not much. So when it was announced that the golden duo from The Producers would be teaming up again, what did people do? They opened their purses and opened them wide. Last time it was springtime and nazi’s, this time it would be poker games and odd couples.

The pair would headline a revival of Neil Simon’s classic comedy, The Odd Couple.

On the first day of sales the show raked in $7 million, and would go on to earn a staggering $21. 5 million in advanced sales, which virtually made it, sold out.

Although on October 4th it opened to just ok reviews, I am sure the producers would call it a tremendous success.


Broadway Hit’s the Big Screen

From whatever side you fall on, blame it on Moulin Rouge and Chicago. Whether you hate musicals or love them, once the envelope was opened announcing Chicago as the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture the course was set. Broadway would be coming to the big screen in a consistent flow, and this year was no exception. The lineup this year was Proof, Rent and The Producers.

Proof hit theaters on September 16th after a long time of sitting on the shelf, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine (the role originated by Mary-Louise Parker), Jake Gyllenhaal, and Anthony Hopkins.

Rent hit the big screen after years of being in development hell on November 23rd. It was brought to the screen by one of the unlikeliest of directors, Chris Columbus, and with an even more unlikely cast comprising six actors from the original stage musical that included Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Anthony Rapp, Taye Diggs, and Idina Menzel. Rounding out the cast was Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms.

Finally twelve time Tony winner The Producers opened wide in theaters on December 25th, and went from film to musical, then back to film. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprised their roles as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom. Joining them were Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman.

All three films earned just mixed reviews from critics, and neither Rent nor Proof set the box office aflame (the jury is still out for The Producers having just opened), but that doesn’t seem to have put off Hollywood execs since more are in the works. I have found that most people either love them or hate them. You are simply a musical person or you are not, and it is very hard to make any converts. At the time of this writing I saw only one of the three, and I liked Rent very much, much more than the stage version, but then I would consider myself a musical person.


The West End Goes Dark

There are very few times when the show does not go on. One of those times occurred this year.

On July 7th a series of bombings in the London underground and on a double decker bus killed at least 50 people and injured hundreds. The London transportation system was crippled and with it the entire West End and the National Theater (the first time in its history) went dark mirroring the feelings of the day.

Theaters were unable to gather casts, crews, and staff. Many commuters were forced to walk home or check into hotels. Not to be beaten though, by the next day the resilient city and theater district were back on their feet again and open for business.


The Green Girl Goes Out With A Bang

Tony winner Idina Menzel was set to play her final performance as the misunderstood green girl, Elphaba, in Wicked on January 9th. Fate had something else to say on the subject though. On January 8th while attempting to exit through a trap door she fell and cracked one her ribs leaving her unable to perform the rest of her shows. It was though announced that she would appear at the curtain call of the 9th’s matinee.

The crowd got a surprise though on the 9th, when Idina, dressed in a red tracksuit, appeared from the same trap door she fell through to sing the final notes of the musical and properly end her run. She then took her final bows and director Joe Mantello told her that she was welcome to don the green makeup again at any time.


Long Runs and Quick Exits

2005 was a year filled with several very limited engagements and times when some shows were gone faster than it took you to read this sentence.

First up was the show that refused to be beaten this season. Twelve Angry Men opened last year on October 28th and was set to run until December 19th. It was extended not once, not twice, not three times, but seven times until May 15, 2005. It bumped two of the Roundabout’s scheduled shows and before ending was rumored to be heading for a more permanent theater. The courtroom drama will now embark on a national tour and a London engagement.

Billy Crystal has been entertaining Oscar audiences for years, this year he had Broadway audiences standing in the aisles with his autobiographical one man show, 700 Sundays. One of the biggest hits of the years, 700 Sundays, was extended twice and is currently touring the country.

It seems the musical genes of Richard Rodgers have been passed on to his grandson, Adam Guettel because his musical, The Light in the Piazza, became the surprise hit of the year. It was awarded with six Tony Awards and has currently been extended three times forcing Lincoln Center to house one of their productions elsewhere.

On the flip side of things there were those shows that for whatever reason just couldn’t make it on Broadway, one even quit before it got there.

Suzanne Somers brought her one-woman show, The Blonde in the Thunderbird, to the Brooks Atkinson Theater on July 17th, and after receiving harsh reviews and seeing ticket sales plummet, the show closed just six days later. She said that Broadway had broken her heart.

The Mambo Kings was set to open at the Broadway Theater, but after receiving negative reviews from its out of town tryout, the musical cut its loses before it even setting a foot on the Broadway stage.

Lennon was a troubled musical from the start. Set to the music of John Lennon, the show featured several actors playing the singer/songwriter at different stages in his life. The musical was delayed twice to be retooled, and was seemingly destined to enter obscurity, which it did when it closed a little over a month after opening.


Oprah Winfrey Presents

Nothing gives a show more of a boost when possibly the richest and most powerful woman in the world announces that she is backing it. That is exactly what happened when Oprah Winfrey threw her hands into Broadway and onto The Color Purple.

Once the marquee went up announcing “Oprah Winfrey Presents” good things were expected for the musical. After it was introduced to her loyal television audience on November 11th advanced ticket sales jumped in just a few days. Since the show’s opening and due to Winfrey’s constant promotion of the show capacity rates have hovered in the 90% range.


Jerry Springer Causes A Stir

Jerry Springer has always been followed by controversy no matter where it went. With shows like Big Busted Strippers, High Class Call Girls, I Stole My 12-year-old’s Boyfriend, and I Want Out of This Threesome I would expect nothing less. But that is nothing compared to what an award winning musical stirred up.

Jerry Springer the Opera opened in April 2003 to critical acclaim and went on to win the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It wasn’t until January 2005 when the BBC planned to air the profanity filled musical (8,283 swear words) did all hell (for lack of a better word) break loose. Once aired the BBC had received some 45,000 complaints against the musical in addition to the thousands in support of it. Christian protestors burned their television licenses in protest, their were reports that BBC executives were fleeing after receiving death threats, and a cancer charity turned down money raised from the musical. A few days later The Christian Voice announced that they would be bringing a blasphemy action against the BBC. The Christian Institute then asked for a judicial review of the musical, but that was eventually rejected. The once cancelled tour of the musical is now set to open next month.

So what is all the fuss about? Well, I can’t say for sure having not seen the musical, but it does feature a diaper fetishist confessing all to his true love, a tap dance routine by the Ku Klux Klan, and a swearing match between Jesus and the Devil. Over 1.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the BBC showing of the musical so all the controversy seems to have done is make more people curious to watch it. I do know one thing; if it ever makes it to Broadway I want to see it for just the same reason.

What do you think were the most interesting stories of the year?  Talk about yours and mine here.