Holiday-season openings light up Great White Way

December may be busiest month

NEW YORK — It’s beginning to look a lot like April this December.

Broadway usually goes into overdrive right before the Tony Awards cutoff of May 1.

This legit season, December might turn out to be the busier month, as seven Broadway shows plan to open the three weeks before Christmas, with another five high-profile Off Broadway productions set to debut then as well.

Two last-minute additions have crowded an already tight late-autumn sked: Producer Roger Berlind will open the Abbey Theater’s production of “Medea” with Fiona Shaw Dec. 10. The previous night, “Dance of the Vampires” finally preems after an 18-day delay. (Director John Rando had missed several days of previews due to his mother’s illness. He was back at the Minskoff as of last week.)

Since Dec. 9 had been the opening date for the Off Broadway production of “Adult Entertainment,” producers of the new Elaine May comedy were left scrambling.

“Finding a new date was like pulling a card for an inside straight,” says “AE” producer Julian Schlossberg, who came up with Dec. 11.

There were few available dates that week, which kicks off Dec. 8 with “La Boheme.” Nora Ephron’s “Imaginary Friends” opens Dec. 12. The week before come “Our Town” on Dec. 3, with Paul Newman, and Brian Stokes Mitchell in “Man of La Mancha” on Dec. 5.

Adding to the mix Off Broadway are Regina Taylor’s “Crowns” (Dec. 3) at Second Stage, Christopher Shinn’s “What Didn’t Happen” (Dec. 10) headlining Chris Noth at Playwrights Horizons, Neil LaBute’s “The Mercy Seat” starring Sigourney Weaver and Liev Schreiber at MCC (Dec. 18) and Tommy Tune’s “White Tie and Tails” opening the new Little Shubert (Dec. 18).

Back on Broadway, LCT’s revival of “Dinner at Eight,” directed by Gerald Guttierez, brings the legit overload to an end Dec. 19.

Schlossberg, who also is a producer on the Tune show, can only shrug at going head-to-head with “Mercy Seat.”

“What are you going to do?” he wonders.

Year-end movies reign

Twelve high-profile shows in just 16 days intensifies the current problem of shrinking editorial space and airtime for theater reviews and articles. Compounding that dilemma is expected intense competition from Hollywood, which unleashes its many Oscar-worthy movies at year end. Theater has a much wider berth for exposure in April, a month when theaters usually are filled with some of the year’s worst films.

“It’s not only the year-end movies,” Time magazine’s Richard Zoglin says of the projected December space crunch. Mags also reserve space for their annual recaps. “There will be competition with our Man of the Year issue,” Zoglin says. Also, several weeklies, Time included, skip an issue in late December and don’t publish.

“Which means you can’t always play catch-up with reviews,” adds Zoglin.

His recent rave for “Flower Drum Song,” a rare full-pager in Time, provided much-needed fodder for that show’s print ads. Zoglin can only guess which of the upcoming dozen shows will get that kind of exposure come December.

Embarrassment of riches

Last month, features editor Faye Penn at the New York Post bumped the review of a Broadway show, “Amour,” to run one for Off Broadway’s “Arturo Ui” with Al Pacino. Space considerations, not to mention competition to beat the Times with its notice of the Pacino starrer, were cited.

“Sure, that might come up again in December,” Penn says. Not that she is overcome by fear and loathing of too much to write about: “I’d rather have an embarrassment of riches than making a big story out of a crummy production. Call me in January if you want a disgruntled editor.”

Baz does Broadway

Producers left out in the December cold might take a different view of the situation. Already there’s concern from some quarters that the oxygen you hear being sucked out of editors’ assignment sheets is the handiwork of Baz Luhrmann.

He’s planning a movie-style media junket, complete with print and radio roundtables and back-to-back mini-interviews for TV journalists. A staggering 200 reporters are invited for the Nov. 18 press fest in Gotham.

Can Broadway cope with this much hype?

Press junkets are so standard in movieland that they’ve even been spoofed in the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts starrer “Notting Hill” and scorned in a recent New Yorker profile on publicist Bumble Ward.

Broadway, however, has always lived in an alternate universe.

“I thought I’d made up the concept of doing all these interviews,” says “La Boheme publicist Chris Boneau. “Then it hit me, this is a tried-and-true approach.”

But not on Broadway, and certainly never on this scale.

The “Boheme” junket will differ in one major respect from the Hollywood beast. Movie companies traditionally pay for certain journalists’ air travel, hotel and related expenses: A recent junket for Disney’s “Santa Clause 2” had some press whores complaining about their mere $50 per diem at the Inn at Turtle Creek near Dallas. (They were accustomed to getting $100.)

With the exception of a free lunch, the producers of “La Boheme” are keeping their affair perk-free.

“The reporters we’ve invited are either based here,” says Boneau, “or they’re getting to New York on their own accord.”

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