Commercial Legit Beaned In Beantown

The commercial theater season in Boston is grinding to a halt as product dwindles and anxiety about the recession and the war in the Persian Gulf grows.

Season may have started out reasonably strong in the fall, but come spring, it looks as though it’ll be out of business. The Shubert Theater has been dark all season and looks to stay that way. The Wilbur Theater turned off its lights after the Dec. 21 to Jan. 20 Broadway tryout of “La Bete” and has no more bookings. The Wang Center for the Performing Arts has had only three weeks of legit so far this season, and there are no other bookings in sight.

Which leaves the Colonial Theater to wrap up the season. Barring a surprise entry, the Colonial will go dark after a one-week engagement of Julie Harris as Isak Dinesen in William Luce’s “Lucifer’s Child,” March 19 to 24, as part of a tour that hopes to end up on Broadway. Prior to that will be two weeks of Penn & Teller’s “Refrigerator Tour,” Feb. 19 to March 3, and two weeks of Stephanie Dunnam in “The Heidi Chronicles” tour, March 5 to 17.

The season began strongly for the Colonial with the launch of the national tour of “M. Butterfly,” which was extended from three weeks to five, Sept. 22 to Oct. 28, and continued with “Sarafina!” Oct. 30 to Nov. 11. The rest of the season hasn’t been as strong: a week of “Rumors,” a week of the Abbey Theater production of “The Playboy Of The Western World” and a Dec. 18 to 31 run of “Lend Me A Tenor.”

The Penn & Teller engagement is expected to prosper since the comic duo did just fine in a previous Colonial run. “Heidi” has name recognition. And Julie Harris is a Hub favorite. As the Colonial and the Wilbur’s Donald Tirabassi puts it, “We’ve had a not-too-bad season,” given all the extra-theatrical problems that have beset it, notably the ailing Boston economy. The Colonial, by far Boston’s sturdiest house, was further strengthened by several non-legit attractions, notably six performances of Peter Sellars’ modern-dress “Marriage Of Figaro,” presented by the new Boston Opera Theater in January.

The Wilbur season began with three disappointing weeks of “The Cocktail Hour” Oct. 9 to 28, but picked up considerably with Robert Morse in “Tru” Nov. 6 to 25. It was making a post-Broadway return to the Boston area, having played a very successful Broadway tryout at Cambridge’s Hasty Pudding Theater. “Tru” was followed by the Nov. 27 to Dec. 9 run of Eric Bogosian in his “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” notable for being shot as a feature film while playing at the Wilbur.

“La Bete” fared poorly at the Wilbur despite some good reviews, at least in part because of the loss of its star, Ron Silver, after just one preview.

Among its theatrical offerings, vast Wang has had only one week of Robert Goulet, in the touring “The Fantasticks” in November, and one of the touring “Starlight Express” in January. Business was “slow” for Goulet; “Starlight Express” did extremely well. The Wang is negotiating for dates with the touring “A Chorus Line” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” The latter was announced as playing the Wang for a week last October, but didn’t.

“Cats” and “Les Miserables” have given Boston’s Shubert healthy repeat runs in recent seasons, but 1990-91 has turned out to be a complete writeoff. The Shubert Organization’s Peter Entin in New York says there are some possibilities for the fall.

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