It was a week marked by exits in Gotham, as a major tuner folded and a high-profile artistic director served notice.
After several days of negotiations, X-rays and deliberations, the producers of “Busker Alley” dropped a plan that would have seen Gregory Hines dance Tommy Tune’s numbers in the musical until the star’s broken foot healed. Though Hines had agreed to the plan in principle, he was unable to commit to more than an eight-week engagement, and reports held that Tune’s injury was serious enough to make it unlikely he would be able to reclaim the role in that short a time.
Without a name dancer to keep the show afloat, producers Barry and Fran Weissler made official late last week what had been expected when Tune broke his foot during a performance in Tampa on Oct.1: “Busker Alley” was gone for the season. Also as expected, it looks like the St. James Theater, where “Busker” was to have begun previews Oct.19, will be booked with a spring revival of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” starring Nathan Lane and directed by Jerry Zaks.
What the future holds for “Busker” is anyone’s guess.
‘We’re not going on now, which is all I can really say,” a despondent Fran Weissler said Oct.12, calling the latest move a “postponement.” “What happens next depends on Tommy’s healing.”
Of course, it also depends on the availability of a theater big enough to house a major musical, and whether the producers will be able to reassemble a company that has now been disbanded.
While Tune was keeping his chartreuse cast aloft, Don Scardino was in Connecticut, doing the same for the cast of Diane Shaffer’s “Sacrilege,” the Broadway-bound Ellen Burstyn starrer (review, page 106). But at Playwrights Horizons, where Scardino is completing the last year of his four-year contract as artistic director, a successor was being announced: Tim Sanford, currently the company’s associate artistic director and literary manager, takes over the a.d. spot Jan. 1, when Scardino assumes the new title of director in residence.
An exceptionally talented director with strong connections in film and television, Scardino was nonetheless seen as a problematic choice for Playwrights. He had replaced Andre Bishop, who had moved on to Lincoln Center Theater after turning Playwrights into one of the country’s most celebrated nonprofit theaters. Scardino cultivated a new generation of writers, who fared less well than their predecessors with critics and audiences.
Scardino also negotiated a controversial development deal with Amblin Entertainment, under which the Steven Spielberg company commissioned a series of new plays in return for a first refusal option on the scripts. While some viewed the deal as a sellout to Hollywood, others hailed it as a valuable link between new writers and the commercial world. Scardino will continue to head the Playwrights Horizons-Amblin program.
Almost from the beginning, Scardino was torn between the full-time demands of Playwrights Horizons, a $4 million-a-year operation, and his desire to work outside the company. He is a regular director of TV’s “Law and Order,” and recently directed the season opener of “Homicide.”
“He’s such a good director, but he felt torn, and the organization was beginning to suffer,” said playwright A.R. Gurney, whose “Later Life” – staged by Scardino – provided Playwrights with its only commercial hit during the director’s tenure. “I know Don has tried to steer the offerings toward less conventional works,” Gurney added. “Subscribers expected one thing and got another.”
“Last year was extremely difficult for me and for the company,” Scardino said last week. “My creative life was getting away from me. One play per year at Playwrights wasn’t enough, and the institution needs a full-time person in the chair. It seemed like we would both be better served if we found a better position for me.”
Sanford joined the company in 1984 and became literary manager the following year. In 1994, he also became associate artistic director. As the company celebrates its 25th anniversary season, Sanford’s goal, he said, will be to continue seeking new work, as Scardino, Bishop and founder Robert Moss had done before him.
“There is a generation of writers waiting to be discovered,” Sanford said. “Theater is about relationships. I’ve established some, and I intend to take advantage of them. You have to be on guard; you have to be vigilant, and it’s a big challenge. I watch a writer develop; making it happen is exciting – you never know what’s going to click.”