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Saturday, 31 March, 2001, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Broadway catches spring fever
Jennifer Ehle
Tony award-winning Jennifer Ehle is back on Broadway
By BBC News Online's entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

With the Oscars over, attention now turns from film to Broadway theatre, where there is a sudden rush of activity.

At least 10 major productions are due to open in just a few weeks.

The major attraction is a stage adaptation of the 1968 Mel Brooks screen musical comedy classic The Producers.

The show arrives on Broadway with strong word of mouth following a Chicago try-out.


The Producers by Mel Brooks

This is a tale of theatre producers who create a deliberately tasteless show in which Adolf Hitler is the leading character.

The show stars Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. Mel Brooks has written both the book and the music.

Extravaganza

Another big musical production that also has roots in a movie is a revival of 42nd Street which will open early in May.

This song and dance spectacular, which was first produced on Broadway in 1980, is a show within a show.

It deals with the backstage drama and romance of a 30s musical with a cast of relative unknowns.

But according to its director Mark Bramble, the 1980 production has been totally revamped and given a 21st Century view.

42nd Street
42nd Street has been revamped

When it comes to plays, transatlantic imports feature prominently. A revival of Noel Coward's 30s comedy Design for Living has already opened sporting a cast that includes Alan Cumming and Jennifer Ehle.

Both leads are popular with audiences for their previous New York work which earned them both Tony awards - Broadway's most prestigious stage accolade.

Cumming is extremely popular after having made a spectacular impression on US theatergoers with his electric performance in the role of MC in a 1998 revival of Cabaret.

Design for Living chronicles a menage à trois which seems remarkably modern for a play Noel Coward wrote 70 years ago.

Jennifer Ehle says: "It surprised me how many serious things he says in it.

"I thought it was actually incredibly up-to-the-minute and very, very relevant, and it's fun."

Ehle plays a woman torn between a soulless marriage of convenience and two men with whom she's been intimately linked.

The men have also been romantically involved with one another. Ultimately the three decide they have no alternative but to live together.

Cumming says he really liked the subject matter.

"If you have a passion for something, you have to find it and fulfil it and in this case it's an unusual passion. I'm quite interested in those issues."

Buzz

Opening this weekend is Stones in His Pockets, the critically acclaimed Irish play from actor-writer Marie Jones.

It has already been staged in Belfast, Dublin, Scotland and the West End.

Two actors, Sean Campion and Conleth Hill portray "extras" in an American film which is being shot on location in County Kerry.

Tom Stoppard
Tom Stoppard's drama sees Broadway debut

Campion and Hill play 15 parts in the course of the play which arrives on Broadway with a strong buzz.

The Invention of Love, a New York première of a Tom Stoppard play first seen on the London stage in 1997, has also just opened.

Stoppard's drama examines the English poet AE Housman, who died in 1936, and his unrequited lifelong love for another man.

Two American actors will play the poet at different ages. Richard Easton portrays him at age 77, while Robert Sean Leonard plays Housman as a young man.

Other Broadway plays include King Hedley II, a new offering from August Wilson, one of America's leading African-American playwrights.

His latest work is set in Pittsburgh in the Reagan 80's and focuses on a recently released convict trying to redeem himself.

Two Holocaust themed dramas will also be present on Broadway this season.

Judgment at Nuremberg
Schell reprises his film role

Judgment at Nuremberg has already opened and stars Maximilian Schell who won an Oscar for his role in the film version of the recounting of the 1948 Nazi war-crime trials.

The other play is The Gathering, set in the 80s, which examines the lingering impact of the Holocaust on three generations of a survivor's family in both the US and Germany.

Survival

Although this season is notably lacking in big name stars the casting of film actor Gary Sinise in a revival of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest has generated considerable interest.

Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Jack Nicholson made the part his own

Sinise will be trying to grapple with the part of Randle Patrick McMurphy - a role that Jack Nicholson made his own and for which he won an Oscar.

Terry Kinney, the director of this new stage version, claims that his Cuckoo's Nest is totally different.

He says it is more balanced than the film because additional weight has been given to the supporting characters.

Despite the presence of musical crowd pleasers there is little that is daring or fresh in what remains of the Broadway season.

Although the slate of offerings will no doubt bring in the tourist dollar, it will do little to revive interest in theatre among young people.

In the past, vibrant American musicals like Rent, A Chorus Line and Hair have introduced new generations to theatre as a powerful modern force.

Theatre insiders bemoan the lack of anything new and intoxicating on Broadway this season to bring in the young audiences that American musical theatre so desperately needs if it is to survive.

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See also:

05 Jun 00 | Entertainment
British stars shine at Tonys
29 Apr 00 | Tom Brook
Acting across the ages
05 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Broadway's curtain call
28 Mar 01 | Arts
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01 Feb 01 | Entertainment
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