Diary of a Theatre Addict: A mad scramble to open on Broadway (and for me to see it all!)

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the day1 Comment

Midnight tonight, in case you’ve not voted yet, is the deadline for the #AlsoRecognisedAwards that I have co-founded with Terri Paddock on MyTheatreMates.com.

That’s the most important message of the day. But by tonight I’ll have also had another ten-show week. And what a ten-show week! I’ve been in New York on my annual pre-Tony Awards catch up, as a veritable flood of shows open back-to-back, all seeking to get in under the wire of the last day to be considered eligible for the year’s Tony Awards.

Tony-AwardsThat day is this coming Thursday, and between tonight and this Thursday there are six big openings — one each night and two on Thursday. Between last Sunday and Thursday just gone, there were four more. So that’s TEN openings in less than a fortnight. And  since April 1, there have been four more. So that’s 14 openings across a 23 day span. Given that the previous 11 months produced a total of 22 openings (including two limited ‘speciality’ engagements of a magic show and a music show that brought The Temptations and the Four Tops to Broadway on the same bill), you can see just how unbalanced the Broadway year is, with so many shows crowding into such a small window.

That creates a critical unbalance, too, in every sense: not least for my New York critical colleagues, who are being run ragged (it’s not as if off-Broadway stops producing either around now; never mind the regionals). And it means that there’s no time at all for the reviews — good or bad — to register with the ticket buying public, before they’re immediately being confronted with yet another show wanting their attention, too. It truly becomes a Darwinian struggle of the fittest – or the fattest, at least, who have reserves they can draw on while they weather it out.

Still, it certainly makes coming to town now exciting. As an out-of-town critic (I’m filing a round-up for The Times on what I’ve seen later this week), I’m seeing many of the shows with other New York critics. Since they follow a system of holding a number of critics’ previews here in advance of the actual opening, I’ve already seen Living on Love and Something Rotten, both of which open respectively tomorrow (April 20) and Wednesday (April 22), so I can’t comment on them yet. I’m also seeing a preview of Dr Zhivago tomorrow (Monday), ahead of its official opening the next night.

I’ve already commented briefly on some of what I’ve seen on Twitter, but I’m not going to pre-empt what I’m going to say in my Times piece by commenting any further here! Suffice it to say, I’ve had a busy week, which of course regular readers of this weekly diary will know is nothing new for me. But being in New York means I come charged with even more energy than usual. It helps that everything is so convenient — my apartment is two blocks to the theatre district (actually, one and half to the Worldwide Plaza’s New World Stages complex on the same street, and two blocks to my first Broadway theatres, the Gershwin and Circle on the Square).

Nor does the day job go away while I’m here, so I’m still filing daily and weekly columns for The Stage, and writing up and conducting new interviews. Just this last week I had a long “phoner” back to London with Kenneth Branagh on Wednesday, ahead of the public launch of his new theatre company on Friday, which I wrote about here, another phone chat with Sonia Friedman yesterday, and I met composer Jason Robert Brown for a face-to-face interview last Thursday.

In the next three days, I’m also interviewing Ben Brantley and Jonathan Groff, the latter of whom is currently in Hamilton (which I’m seeing again tonight at the Public), ahead of coming to London for the concert performance of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying at the Royal Festival Hall next month.

All that, and of course I’ve got lots of friends to catch up with too: it was a particular pleasure to sit in Scott_alan_pianoScott Alan’s apartment, just a few blocks from mine, and hear him sing two brand-new songs to an audience of one (me!), ahead of his forthcoming sold out run at the St James in May! Scott was also my plus-one guest to two of my theatre outings this week: It Shoulda Been You on Tuesday (he is friends with its composer  Barbara Anselmi) and the Radio City Spring Spectacular yesterday (starirng Laura Benanti, with whom he is appearing on the bill of an evening devoted to Tori Amos songs tomorrow; I can’t get to it, but he also previewed the song he is doing for me the other day in his apartment along with his own two new songs).

Being here, of course, means that I’ve missed some London treats — I was particularly sorry not to have been at the first night of the transfer of Gypsy last Wednesday (though I was able to review it as the producers allowed me in early last Saturday), since Angela Lansbury — the last London Momma Rose — was there (she also went to see the pie shop Sweeney Todd when she was in town!) By all accounts, I didn’t miss too much by missing the opening of The Twits at the Royal Court, nor of Death of a Comedian at Soho Theatre; though I must catch up with Michael Longhurst’s production of Simon Stephens’s Carmen Disruption that opened on Friday at the Almeida.

One of the advantages of being away is that you can cherry-pick what to see (and what to miss) after you get back. But first I have six more shows to see here between today and Wednesday afternoon. Today I’m seeing Audra-McDonaldAudra McDonald (left) in concert in New Jersey (as I won’t be here for her next Carnegie Hall gig next week on April 29), then re-visiting Hamilton tonight (a ticket I bought ages ago, when the extension of the season was first announced and I knew I’d be here then, before I got a press ticket to see it when I was here in March). Tomorrow (Monday) is Dr Zhivago, then the annual Easter Bonnet competition on Tuesday afternoon (the annual charity fund-raiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids) and Gigi on Tuesday evening. Finally, I see Fun Home (that opens tonight) on Wednesday afternoon, from where I depart directly to JFK for my flight home… arriving Thursday morning at Heathrow, from where I head direct to ArtsEd to teach without going home first, then straight to the National for the revival of Caryl Churchill’s 1975 play Light Shining in Buckinghamshire that evening!

And then the crazy juggling of schedules begins all over again back home. On Friday, I’m going in early to American Buffalo at Wyndham’s, as I also need to go in early to Bugsy Malone at Lyric Hammersmith the following Monday, ahead of their respective openings on April 28 and April 27, to meet my print deadlines.  Next Saturday, I’m heading up to the Sage, Gateshead to catch Sting singing his score to The Last Ship — my favourite original musical of the year so far. And on Sunday, I’m going to see the late Pina Bausch’s company Tanztheater Wuppertal perform the 1987 piece Ahnen, described as being about “love, loss, longing and desire, and the eradicable human will to survive all”. So basically it’s just about living!

See you here next week, and elsewhere, I’m sure, before that.