BROADWAY: FALL 2009

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FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The abrupt closing Sunday of NEIL SIMON’S BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS after only nine performances has cast a brief, uneasy shadow over Broadway’s fall season, ironically one of the busiest in years.

And the revival’s collapse has had a ripple effect, forcing the cancellation of a second Simon production BROADWAY BOUND, which was to have opened at the same theatre (the NEDERLANDER) in December and then run in repertory with BRIGHTON BEACH.

“A lot of nice people on stage and off will be out of work and a lot of good partners and investors will have lost a great deal of money,” producers Emanuel Azenberg and Ira Pittelman said in a statement.

“They all deserve better. It makes us sad.”

Yet its failure — the shortest run ever for a NEIL SIMON play on Broadway — stands in contrast to the healthy box office activity of several star driven productions such as A STEADY RAIN, featuring the one two punch of HUGH JACKMAN and DANIEL CRAIG, a revival of HAMLET, starring JUDE LAW as SHAKESPEARE’S melancholy Danish prince and GOD OF CARNAGE, last season’s BEST PLAY TONY winner, with a cast that includes JAMES GANDOLFINI, MARCIA GAY HARDEN, HOPE DAVIS and JEFF DANIELS.

The two character RAIN has proven to be particularly potent at the box office, regularly grossing more than $1.2 million each week, more than most musicals.

CARNAGE has maintained its high grosses, too, even after a six week summer hiatus for its stars. Whether that momentum will be sustained when the show’s new cast — JIMMY SMITS, ANNIE POTTS, CHRISTINE LAHTI and KEN STOTT — take over NOVEMBER 17 is uncertain.

The revival of BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, a show first seen on Broadway in 1983, did meager business during its three weeks of previews, grossing less than $125,000 during the week before its OCTOBER 25 opening. Despite many good reviews, the show’s receipts didn’t increase as much as its producers had hoped.

The biggest name in BRIGHTON BEACH was LAURIE METCALF, who was to have had the showiest role in BROADWAY BOUND, the final chapter in NEIL SIMON’S lightly fictionalized stage autobiography.

Stars help, but they don’t guarantee success. Last season, JANE FONDA, SUSAN SARANDON and GEOFFREY RUSH all appeared in shows that didn’t earn back their production costs.

And this season, DAVID MAMET’S OLEANNA appears to be underperforming at the box office despite the presence of JULIA STILES and BILL PULLMAN.

JEFFREY RICHARDS, one of Broadway’s more experienced producers, has savvily lined up four names for his production of DAVID MAMET’S new play RACE: JAMES SPADER, KERRY WASHINGTON, RICHARD THOMAS and DAVID ALAN GRIER, each of whom could bring in a different audience.

Broadway also is watching to see how the fall’s two new musicals — MEMPHIS and FELA! — do. Both don’t have stars. Neither does the recently opened revival of FINIAN’S RAINBOW, which gathered mostly good reviews.

Yet more stars — including CATHERINE ZETA JONES, ANGELA LANSBURY, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, LIEV SCHREIBER, KRISTIN CHENOWETH, SEAN HAYES, NATHAN LANE and BEBE NEUWIRTH — are on tap to appear in Broadway’s nearly three dozen theatres despite the troubled economy.

DAVID RICHENTHAL, producer of FINIAN’S RAINBOW and the upcoming MIRACLE WORKER – starring ABIGAIL BRESLIN as HELEN KELLER – is optimistic. The new show opens in March at CIRCLE IN THE SQUARE THEATRE, an in the round playhouse not used as frequently as more conventional proscenium Broadway theatres.

“It would be disingenuous to pretend ‘Oh, we had a brilliant idea. Let’s do it in the round.’ But you can make a virtue out of necessity. Theatres are more booked this season than any time in my memory in the 20 years I’ve been producing.”

“Usually I’ll go to a theatre owner and they will tell you, ‘I don’t have a theatre right now but wait a couple of months — something will open up.’ Instead, all three of the main theater owners (the SHUBERT ORGANIZATION, the NEDERLANDER ORGANIZATION and JUJAMCYN) said, ‘No. We have backups for our backups for our backups.’

Which most likely means they will be announcing a new show for the NEDERLANDER – home of BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS – any day now.

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