The biggest myths of the year: “Wicked” was a shoo-in to sweep the Tonys, and “Avenue Q” was destined for the road.
Herewith is a look at other myths, mysteries and nonstories of the year.
Remember how Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick’s return in “The Producers” was supposed to suck all the B.O. oxygen from the tuner as soon as their second engagement ended? Instead, summer/fall 2004 receipts were stronger than the previous year’s. (Conversely, “Hairspray” appears to have been more adversely affected by the vagaries of star replacement than originally expected.)
“The Producers” movie musical, out in December ’05, should goose Broadway B.O. even more. Even venerable “The Phantom of the Opera” has not been immune to the positive effects of Hollywood stardust: During Christmas week 2004, “Phantom” recorded the session’s biggest bounce, up $186,643.
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Another myth: Solo shows cost less, therefore they recoup faster. Investors in “I Am My Own Wife,” “Golda’s Balcony,” “Whoopi,” “Mario Cantone: Laugh Whore” and “The Good Body” might disagree.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the nonstory that there are no new plays made its annual appearance. Four weeks in late autumn 2004 brought the New York premieres of Michael Frayn’s “Democracy,” Richard Nelson’s “Rodney’s Wedding,” John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt,” Caryl Churchill’s “A Number,” Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” and, despite several delays, August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean.”
Another newcomer in this same time frame was Daniel Goldfarb’s latest, “Modern Orthodox,” which neatly reinvents the sex comedy, a major staple of Broadway during its reported golden age of drama (1945-1965). Sitcoms retired this brand of naughty fluff, just as TV shows about lawyers did in the courtroom drama. This season, audiences have rediscovered both with a vengeance. Reginald Rose’s 1954 TV script “Twelve Angry Men” turned into the Roundabout’s longest-running show at the American Airlines Theater, while “Modern Orthodox” producers report the play has returned 50% of its $900,000 capitalization in seven weeks.
Regarding the reported decrease of new plays on Broadway, it pretty much depends on whether you call “I Am My Own Wife” and “Golda’s Balcony” plays and “The Good Body” and Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays” one-person shows.
The critics’ love-hate relationship with Stephen Sondheim morphed into the year’s major mystery. “Assassins,” arguably his worst reviewed musical when it opened in 1991, received perhaps his best reviews when it was revived by Roundabout last spring. Conversely, the company’s production of the Amon Miyamoto-helmed “Pacific Overtures” was considered inferior to that director’s Japanese-language staging at Avery Fisher Hall in 2002. Apparently, critics preferred Sondheim and John Weidman’s words when translated into a language few, if any of them, understand.
The duo’s “Bounce” lived up to its title when the show played Chi and D.C. but skipped right over Gotham. Even an announced Actors Fund benefit failed to materialize. The excuse: sked problems.
It is predicted that Sondheim’s “The Frogs,” dismissed in its 2004 LCT incarnation, will be revived to much acclaim 20 years from now in a Greek translation at MCC’s new Broadway space.
Second biggest mystery is the non-recouping long-running hit, otherwise known as “42nd Street.” After putting in its 1,524th and final performance, the Dodgers revival will just miss recouping its $12 million capitalization. In recent Broadway history, only “Jekyll & Hyde” compares, having barely recouped after 1,543 performances. It closed Jan. 7, 2001.
Most overreported story of the year was the Shubert Alley flu. Donna Murphy (“Wonderful Town”) and Kristin Chenoweth (“Wicked”) succumbed, but they were hardly the first. Barbara Harris (“The Apple Tree”) got hit in 1966, missing several perfs right after her Tony win. The no-show virus then quickly reached epidemic proportions with Glynis Johns (“A Little Night Music”), Anthony Hopkins (“Equus”), Liza Minnelli (“The Act”), Gwen Verdon (“Chicago”), Madeline Kahn (“On the Twentieth Century”), Phyllis Hyman (“Sophisticated Ladies”) and Jennifer Holliday (“Dreamgirls”). Who knows? Maybe one of them caught it from Tallullah Bankhead, who was rumored to have contracted it from Jeanne Eagels.
The myth also persists that the New York Times has decreased its legit coverage. Rearranged is more like it. Under the new editorship of Patricia Cohen, theater articles are definitely sassier and harder-edged. In the future, we look forward to nose-thumbing Oscar portraits and a critique of rappers who show up late for performances.