Great White Way awaits new season

Hot summer may fire up fall B'way lineup

Gotham’s unusually cool summer has turned out to be a pretty hot one for Broadway.

With the current B.O. total running an eye-popping 21.1% over last year, the biz is primed to ride that momentum into the fall. The first of the season’s 10 Broadway openings — the star-studded “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man” — is slated for September.

The Broadway total through Week 13 (Aug. 21-27) was a healthy $167,478,528, up from $138,284,761 for the same period last year. Attendance is likewise up a boffo 12.5% for the first quarter of the year, rising from 2,697,115 to 3,033,994.

The season has already seen its first high-profile flop (Kelsey Grammer’s “Macbeth”) and summer saw the usual gradual thinning of the roster, down from 33 shows during the first, post-Tony week to 23 last week.

After a year and a half, “Footloose” joined the casualty list, and “Jesus Christ Superstar” is shuttering soon. “True West” quickly folded when its star duo departed, and the acclaimed revival of “The Real Thing” ended its limited run.

Still, new musicals “Aida” and “Contact” drew sellout audiences throughout the frame, and the acclaimed revivals of “Kiss Me Kate” and “The Music Man” also did strong business, with “Kate” getting a significant post-Tony boost.

Also hanging tough was Tony best play winner “Copenhagen,” a challenging play that managed to recoup during a season famously tough on straight plays.

Claudia Shear’s Mae West tribute “Dirty Blonde” has also proved a tough cookie, aptly enough. And “Cats” played to much bigger audiences this summer than in the recent past, with its final meow (Sept. 10) on the horizon.

Now it’s time to see if the Great White Way’s surprisingly strong summer can carry into the fall season, which kicks off on Sept. 17 with the first Broadway opening, “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.”

Boasting a big cast laden with legit and TV names (Charles Durning, Spalding Gray, Chris Noth, etc.), the revival of Vidal’s 1960 play is capitalized at $1.9 million, and producer Jeffrey Richards says the show’s advance is nearly $1 million.

“Given the political election it seemed the right time frame,” says Richards of the show’s first-out-of-the-gate status. The limited run is slated to close Dec. 31.

“Best Man” is one of two play revivals scheduled for the fall.

The second is the Roundabout Theater’s second production at the new American Airlines Theater, a new version of Harold Pinter’s 1978 play “Betrayal.” David Leveaux, the hot English director who helmed last season’s acclaimed “Real Thing” and the prior season’s “Electra,” directs the production, which has yet to be cast. The opening is set for Nov. 14.

The upcoming season boasts three new plays — up from last fall’s one — but two have in fact already been seen in Gotham. Both David Auburn’s “Proof” and Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” were part of Manhattan Theater Club’s last season.

“Proof,” Auburn’s drama about a mathematician’s daughter coming to grips with his death, will again star Mary Louise Parker (in fact, Parker was originally scheduled to star in a Leveaux production of “Desire Under the Elms” at the Roundabout; when she pulled out to do “Proof,” the slot was switched to “Betrayal”).

The $1.5 million transfer of the Off Broadway production, which opens Oct. 24 at the Walter Kerr, is being produced by MTC along with Roger Berlind, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Jujamcyn, Ostar Enterprises (Bill Haber), Daryl Roth and Stuart Thompson.

Many of the same names are above the title at “Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”

Hays, Roth, Thompson and MTC are joined by Douglas Cramer as producers of that transfer, which opens at the Ethel Barrymore on Nov. 2 starring the original cast led by Linda Lavin (herself, like Ms. Parker, having been promised to Broadway this season in another vehicle: a diptych of Simon’s “Broadway Bound” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which have been shelved). “Tale” is also capitalized at about $1.5 million.

Does MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow worry about her two kids going head to head?

“I think it’s great,” she says. “A lot of the same producers are working on both shows, so obviously we don’t feel like we’re in competition. Actually, I think the shows can feed off each other.”

It’s the first time in the company’s history that MTC has produced two shows on Broadway simultaneously, and MTC exec producer Barry Grove is likewise upbeat about the timing.

“One is a comedy, one is a drama, and both are incredibly strong and have proven popular with audiences. At MTC we’re always producing two shows at a time, and we’ve learned that energy from one bounces to the other. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen on Broadway.”

The timing also gives the producers cross-promotion opportunities that can help ease some marketing costs, although Grove says print and radio advertising will be kept separate.

The third new play (the new new one) is the latest offering from Neil Simon, “The Dining Room,” which Emanuel Azenberg is presenting following runs at the nonprofit Mark Taper Forum in L.A. and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

A comedy set in Paris, Simon’s play is his first Broadway outing since the flop “Proposals” three seasons back.

In tune

The trio of new plays is matched by a trio of new musicals on the fall slate.

First out of the starting blocks is “The Full Monty,” the third tuner in as many seasons adapted from a hit movie. With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Terrence McNally, the tuner marks the producing debut of Fox Searchlight film company.

“Saturday Night Fever” and “Footloose” were less than warmly received, but producer Lindsay Law believes “Full Monty” has a better formula for translating film success to the stage.

“You’ve got to make it a new event,” he says. “We’re not using any music from the movie, for instance. There was nothing new to ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ other than the characters singing. Those shows might have been too rigorous in following the movie precisely; ‘Full Monty’ takes some license. The audience won’t feel like it’s seeing a carbon copy of the movie.”

Law believes that the show will nonetheless benefit from name recognition from the popular movie.

“Full Monty” opens at the Eugene O’Neill on Oct. 26; it made its world premiere in the spring at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. Law wouldn’t divulge the budget, saying only that “guesses” — which have ranged from $6 million to $8 million — had been in the ballpark.

A week later, “Seussical” opens at the Richard Rodgers.

The show — inspired by the colorful characters in the Dr. Seuss books — boasts a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, their first since winning Tonys for “Ragtime.”

The show’s Boston tryout has not been without traumas: the producers axed costume designer Catherine Zuber, replacing her with William Ivey Long, at the beginning of the engagement.

SFX’s Miles Wilkin says he’s confident the show will negotiate the tricky terrain of appealing to kids and adults.

Both Wilkin and his fellow producer Barry Weissler used the terms “edgy, whimsical and sophisticated” to describe the show’s style. They’ve called on trendy fashion photographer David LaChapelle to snap the photos for the marketing campaign.

Neither would give a figure for advance sales, but would only say that they’re better for “Seussical” than they were for “Chicago” prior to that hit’s opening. The show is capitalized at $8.5 million.

The last new musical, and the last opening prior to the holidays, is “Jane Eyre,” a $6.5 million production that has a long history.

The tuner, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird, originated in Toronto in 1996. Following another production at La Jolla Playhouse last summer, the show was expected on Broadway in the fall, but couldn’t secure a theater. It’s finally opening at the Brooks Atkinson on Dec. 3.

The big hit of the last fall season was the sked’s only musical revival: “Kiss Me, Kate.”

This season the lone musical revival of the fall frame is a new take on “The Rocky Horror Show,” produced by newcomer Jordan Roth (Daryl Roth’s son). The $2.5 million-$3 million show, featuring an eclectic cast including Dick Cavett, Joan Jett and Lea DeLaria, opens at the Circle in the Square on Nov. 15.

And speaking of time warps, bringing the Broadway fall total to an even 10 shows is the return engagement of Lily Tomlin starrer “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” “Search” opened on Broadway in 1985, and the revival, updated for the new century, will open at the Booth on Nov. 16.

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