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‘Pacific,’ ‘Ocean’ swallowed on B’way

Legit greats cuts perfs short

It was not a good week for the commercial fortunes of two great legit talents. August Wilson saw the closing notice (Feb. 6) go up on “Gem of the Ocean.” Stephen Sondheim watched as “Pacific Overtures” performed its 61st and last perf (Jan. 30) at Studio 54, where it was not extended.

The original Broadway runs of Wilson’s plays have been getting shorter and shorter. When it shutters, “Gem” will have put in 87 perfs; “King Hedley did 96 in 2001. Previously, there were 201 perfs for “Seven Guitars” (1996), 167 for “Two Trains Running” (1992), 336 for “Piano Lessons” (1990) and so on.

Wilson’s next one, “Radio Golf,” goes to Yale Rep (April 22-May 14) and then the Mark Taper Forum (July 31-Sept. 18). Given the scribe’s recent success rate, producers may think thrice before ponying up the $2 million-plus capitalization for the privilege of a Broadway berth.

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There are, no doubt, producers with deep pockets who count their Pulitzer Prizes before they check their stock portfolios. Wilson already has two Pulitzers, and with “Gem,” his only real competition for the 2005 prize appears to be John Patrick Shanley‘s “Doubt,” which is expected to replace “Gem” at the Walter Kerr Theater.

“Radio Golf,” of course, is unique. It is the 10th and final play in Wilson’s cycle chronicling the African-American experience through each decade of the last century. Forget the Pulitzer, people are talking about a Nobel Prize for such a mammoth body of work. Can any multimillionaire producer resist?

As for the truncated run of “Gem,” Jujamcyn’s Rocco Landesman blamed it on the historically slow period of January/February. But unlike most other plays on Broadway, “Gem” took an ominous dip over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Obviously, the dreaded stop clause was not invoked.

Before the blizzard hit Gotham and the closing notice went up, “Gem” producer Carole Shorenstein Haystold Variety, “I am a theatrical owner and a producer. I understand the economics. I can look at it from both sides, passionately and dispassionately. There is always a life for a show. We’ll see.”

Something closes so something else can open: Shorenstein Hays is lead producer on “Doubt.”

Meanwhile, Sondheim created his masterpieces on Broadway, but they have become the province of nonprofit, where they have not exactly flourished. In 2004, neither “Assassins” nor “The Frogs” were extended. Despite the star power of Nathan Lane, “Frogs” ran about $250,000 under gross potential at Lincoln Center. And at the Roundabout, “Pacific Overtures” took in $100,000 less each week than “Assassins,” which had to cancel its announced extension.

To Be or Not to Be

Canadian actress Kelli Fox, sister of thesp Michael J. Fox, will play the title role in the Geva Theater Center production of “Hamlet” (April 9-May 15).

Fox has been a leading lady at the prestigious Shaw Festival for the past nine seasons. Her critically acclaimed performances include leading roles in “Major Barbara,” “Candida” and last season’s “Rutherford and Son.”

In playing the melancholy Dane, Fox joins the ranks of cross-dressing thesps Sarah Bernhardt, Eva LaGallienne, Judith Anderson and Siobhan McKenna. “I prefer to think of myself as an actor playing a role,” says Fox, “and not a woman playing a man. The character is a mass of contradictions, which is how most of us feel, walking around in our lives.”

Helming the femme “Hamlet” is Geva artistic director Mark Cuddy.

— Richard Ouzounian

What goes around

Jerry Zaks has signed with the William Morris Agency. The helmer is casting the Old Vic production of “The Philadelphia Story,” which will star Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey; Debra Messing reportedly is in talks to play Tracy Lord, the Katharine Hepburn role. (Laura Linney had been touted, but she had a scheduling conflict.) Duncan Weldon has the Broadway rights to the Philip Barry play, if all goes well in London. Meanwhile, Zaks is represented in Gotham with the Broadway revival of “La Cage aux Folles.”

Encores! comings and goings

Rob Fisher leaves his music-director position at Encores!, effective at the end of the 2005 season. The search is on for his replacement.

Emily Skinner goes into the concert series staging of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (Feb. Feb. 10-13).

Sheldon Epps directs the Encores! staging of “Purlie” (March 31-April 3), which he takes to his Pasadena Playhouse in June, then on to Chi’s Goodman Theater in September. Producer James N. Vagias, in association with the Pasadena Playhouse but not Encores!, then looks to open on Broadway.

Epps says he’s talking to Gary Geld and Peter Udell about adding a new song at the end of “Purlie.” As for the book, “We’re not of the belief that this show needs a drastic adaptation,” says the director.

— Zachary Pincus-Roth