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Saturday, 1 April, 2000, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Broadway springs into action
Riverdance cast members
Broadway hit: The spectacular Riverdance show
By BBC News Online Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

After a barren autumn and winter on Broadway, April promises to be a big month with a string of high-profile openings.

Box offices along the "Great White Way" have been doing good business in the last few weeks.

One of the most successful shows - at least in financial terms - is Riverdance, that popular Irish folk dance extravaganza which arrived in town two weeks ago.
Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice and the Aida cast
Aida curtain call: Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice join the cast
Disney's follow-up to The Lion King, the Elton John and Tim Rice musical collaboration, Aida, collected some noxious reviews, but in its first week of business has held up well.

Hope for a breakout musical - at least in creative terms - rests on a forthcoming production of The Wild Party, a show based on a Jazz Age poem starring Eartha Kitt and the recently Oscar-nominated Australian actress Toni Collette.

The other eagerly awaited musical offering has been the transfer to Broadway of Contact, an erotic dance play in which three sexual fantasies are explored through dance and dialogue.

Revivals

But with musicals this is most definitely a season of revivals. A staging of Cole Porter's classic Kiss Me Kate has won critical praise, and in the coming weeks two musical staples, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Music Man, are set to open.
Jennifer Ehle
Jennifer Ehle: Star of The Real Thing
The obsession with revivals is even more acute with plays.

Praise has been lavished upon True West, a restaging of Sam Shephard's 1982 comedy about sibling rivalry starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly - actors who both performed in Paul Thomas Anderson's recent ensemble feature film Magnolia.

Also a revival of Eugene O'Neill's play A Moon for the Misbegotten has won good reviews for a cast that includes the British stage veteran Roy Dotrice, and the Irish star Gabriel Byrne.

Revivals continue this month with a new staging of The Real Thing - Tom Stoppard's play seen on Broadway in 1984 - which has Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane in the roles made famous by Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons.

Also in April, Sir Derek Jacobi will head up a revival of the Chekhov masterpiece Uncle Vanya.

Taymor's comeback

Julie Taymor the director who provided the creative spark for The Lion King, and more recently Titus on screen, will be back on Broadway too with a rendering of The Green Bird, Carlo Gozzi's 18th century Italian fable.
Julie Taymor with Prince Charles
Lion King creator Julie Taymor with Prince Charles
What is striking, once again this year, is the lack of many new American plays.

Elaine May has a comedy in the offing called Taller Than A Dwarf which stars Matthew Broderick and Parker Posey, as a young city couple who confront the dark side of the American Dream.

Also, Star Trek's Patrick Stewart is in the leading role as a bigamist in the The Ride Down Mount Morgan, a 1991 comedy from one of America's greatest living playwrights, Arthur Miller, which will be making its Broadway debut.

Other than that the new plays opening in April will be British imports - Michael Frayn's award-winning Copenhagen and a transfer of the Royal National Theatre's production of Martin Sherman's one woman show, Rose, about a Holocaust survivor played by Olympia Dukakis.

British talent will be much in evidence, in more than half a dozen new productions. For American theatre professionals, the strong British presence is not necessarily cause for celebration, because it merely reflects the artistic paralysis that has beset Broadway.

British talent

British imports represent tried and tested product, which American theatre producers are eager to embrace in an era when the risks associated with mounting an original Broadway production have become daunting.
A Christmas Carol on US TV
Actor Patrick Stewart (right) in a TV adaptation of A Christmas Carol
This explains why there are so many revivals, and middle of the road musical extravaganzas, flooding theatres because they represent safe product for jittery producers.

As corporate investors like Disney continue to make inroads into Broadway, the independent producer who used to take a risk on a creative musical endeavour has become a rare creature.

Also, there are fewer and fewer major American musical theatre talents supplying new works.

When Stephen Sondheim, one of America's most celebrated theatre artists, recently turned 70, it was noted in the New York Times, that he may be the last major creator of Broadway musicals still actively devoted to the trade.

When there are so many different viewing alternatives, everything from the internet to DVD competing for the entertainment dollar, it gets harder for theatre to survive.

The current season could still produce a break out hit, and despite the gloomy predictions of all the doomsayers, Broadway has always had the uncanny ability to re-invent itself and find a new audience just when everyone has declared the party is finally over.

See also:

29 Mar 00 | Entertainment
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22 Nov 99 | Entertainment
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