Mayday for U.K.

Month typically slow before summer season

April, according to poet T.S. Eliot, is the cruelest month. Clearly, he wasn’t a legit producer trying to sell a show in May.

In the U.K., May is a double whammy. Tourists don’t appear in sizable numbers until June. Worse, this is the point in the year when the weather finally cheers up and the great British public sensibly reasons they would rather be outdoors enjoying a balmy evening than sitting in a darkened theater.

In fact, things have been so bad this year that the TKTS half-price booth has been selling almost every show in town. Proving that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, even strictly limited runs of Daniel Radcliffe naked in “Equus” and Maggie Smith fully clothed in “The Lady From Dubuque” have been available.

Not that this is stopping producers, who continue to ply their trade and then some. In the busiest period anyone can remember, the two weeks that began May 28 see 14 major London openings in the West End and at other illustrious addresses including the Royal Court, Hampstead, the Donmar and the National.

And that doesn’t include such out-of-town offerings as Ian McKellen in the double bill of Trevor Nunn‘s “King Lear” and “The Seagull” at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, Pete Postlethwaite playing Prospero in “The Tempest” at Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Patrick Stewart murdering the odd Thane in “Macbeth” at Chichester Festival Theater.

Full house in the cards?

Most canny producers try to fill the auditorium to capacity to generate word of mouth, no matter what it costs in discounts. That’s been the thinking behind the re-pricing of “Avenue Q” that began earlier this year. With the puppet tuner now approaching its first anniversary in the West End, business has climbed, thanks to significantly cheaper tickets for weekday perfs.

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” currently in previews, has ticket deals not just at TKTS but everywhere from theater Web sites to the pages of supermarket magazines.

Another way to ensure a fuller house, of course, is to pack up and move to smaller digs. Step forward “Little Shop of Horrors,” which, after its June 23 perf, will head up StMartin’s Lane from the 650-seat Duke of York’s to the 410-seat Ambassadors, bowing there June 27.

The move was precipitated by the impending arrival at the Duke of York’s of “In Celebration,” Sonia Friedman‘s revival of David Storey‘s 1969 drama, directed by Anna Mackmin and marking the West End debut of Orlando Bloom.

In this homecoming story focusing on three sons, Bloom’s brothers will be Gareth Farr and Paul Hilton, with other roles played by Lynda Baron, Ciaran McIntyre and Dearbhla Molloy. The father is still to be cast. Previews begin July 5 for a July 12 opening.

Festival redux

Across the river on the South Bank, an even grander opening is about to happen. From dusk on June 8, there will be 48 hours of nonstop free music, dance, film and visual arts involving 18,000 performers inside and outside every refurbished corner of the much-loved Royal Festival Hall.

Following its two-year, £115 million ($228 million) renovation, the 2,800-seat concert hall returns with vastly improved acoustics, 35% more interior public space and a startlingly diverse program. Not only is it home to four of the world’s leading orchestras, it also hosts Meltdown, an annual multi-arts event curated this year by former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who has bagged such cult figures as Iggy and the Stooges, the Jesus & Mary Chain and the first U.K. perf in 30 years of ’60s legend Melanie.

Somewhere between those musical polarities come three semistaged perfs (July 5-7) of Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd,” with Bryn Terfel as the barber and Maria Friedman debuting in the role of Mrs. Lovett.

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