Ralph Fiennes redefined Hamlet. City Center's limited-run concert version of Pal Joey was canonized by the critics. But this season, the most exciting two hours of New York City theater occurred not in the theater district but downtown at the Bottom Line-a music club, of all places. For three nights in May, Hollywood composer-arranger Marc Shaiman (City Slickers, Sister Act) produced a revue culled from two terrific musicals he cowrote years ago for the stage the clever Livin' Dolls, featuring Ken and Barbie; and Dementos, a compassionate portrait of street people-neither of which ever found Broadway backers.
Broadway doesn't go for such risky, contemporary stuff. And when the 49th annual Tony Awards ceremony is telecast live on June 4 on CBS, with hosts Gregory Hines, Glenn Close, and Nathan Lane, you'll see what it does go for: revivals like the respectable but lumbering production of the 1927 Show Boat with 10 nominations. So lean is this season's crop of new musicals that Sunset Boulevard is running unopposed in both best-book and best-score categories. Ticket prices that have now reached $75 have turned Broadway into a risk-free museum.
But don't be put off too much. It's still a slick and well-lit museum. There's even one minor new masterwork (Having Our Say), and live theater always has its moments of riveting unscripted drama. This season, during a preview of On the Waterfront, actor Jerry Grayson, 58, suffered a heart attack right on stage (he lived; the show didn't). Randy Becker, 24, suffered an epileptic seizure during a preview performance of Love! Valour! Compassion! And New Yorkers followed all the backstage brouhaha at My Thing of Love, starring Roseanne's Laurie Metcalf a director and two cast members were replaced during rehearsals and previews, and then, following a batch of brutal reviews, the play lasted less than two weeks.
Between Damn Yankees, Love! Valour!, and Indiscretions, Broadway's current lineup also boasts more male nudity than Playgirl. If you're planning a summer tour of the rialto, you can still hope for transporting theater. If you can't find it, maybe Jerry Lewis will drop his pants.
How To Get Tix
Tele-Charge (TC) 800-432-7250 (in the New York area, 212-239-6200)
TicketMaster (TM) 800-775-2525 (or 212-307-4100).
Half-price tickets are sold the day of the performance at the TKTS booths in Times Square and at 2 World Trade Center.
New On Broadway
Tom Stoppard's drama breezes between the early 19th and late 20th centuries as the latter-day inhabitants of an English country house search for clues about the home's former occupants. Beautiful idea, somewhat marred by Stoppard's show-offy intellectualism. (TC) B
Jerry Lewis is Satan in this update of the 1955 musical about a middle-aged baseball fan who jeopardizes his soul's eternal comfort for a second swing at youth. (TM) B
Defending the Caveman
Indefensible. In his one-man show, Rob Becker looks at the battle of the sexes through tired comedy-club material. Women like to cuddle. Men never stop to ask directions. You've heard it before. (TM) D