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New York Nights: Summer & the City

The heat being generated on New York's stages is welcome, even if the heat on the sidewalks is not, as Mark Shenton reviews and previews some summer attractions on and off Broadway and in Central Park.

By • West End


Summertime, and the livin' ain't easy - at least not on the sweltering streets of Manhattan, where the heat rises off the sidewalks to blast you with waves of hot air, and the humidity is only briefly broken by the occasional thunderstorm. (Don't even think, by the way, about going down into the hellish subway system - while the trains are air-conditioned, the station platforms aren't.)

Do the seasonal elements also conspire to create a theatrical nightmare? Not at all. Unlike in London, New York's theatres are blissfully cooled and therefore provide a real refuge from the streets outside. So come on in, the air-con's fine.

On Broadway

The new season doesn't usually kick in till October, but this year, there are a number of new summer entries: a revival of Shaw's Major Barbara at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre (opens 12 July); Tom Selleck in a revival of Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns (Longacre, opens 11 July); and the arrival of a comedy show, If You Ever Leave Me...I'm Going With You (Cort, opening 6 August), an autobiographical work by and featuring husband and wife team Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna. Also, from 20 August, the unappealingly titled but hilariously funny Urinetown resumes performances at Broadway's Henry Miller Theatre, after ending a run off-Broadway at the end of June where I saw it and greatly enjoyed its spirit of wit, social critique and terrific musical numbers.

Normal summer scheduling also presents an ideal to catch up on some of the previous season's hits. You won't, unless you queue all day for returns or standing room (which go on sale at 6pm), stand a chance of getting near The Producers. But the Tony-winning revival of 42nd Street (as lavish as the original, and as much fun, too, at the Ford Center, with the terrific star-in-the-making Kate Levering a knockout as star-in-the-making Peggy Sawyer) and The Full Monty (O'Neill) are both worth catching instead.

Held over from previous seasons, the revivals of the London-bound Kiss Me Kate (now starring Burke Moses, who was seen in the West End edition of Disney's Beauty and the Beast) and The Music Man (now featuring television star Eric McCormack, terrific in the title role, to 5 August, then Robert Sean Leonard takes over from 7 August) are in great shape.

Brooke Shields has just taken over the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret (Studio 54), a still startling, superb production. And Fosse, in its last weeks before closing on 1 September, currently features Ben Vereen, a veteran of Fosse's original production of Pippin. Annie Get Your Gun recently featured the definitive Annie of country-and-western star Reba McIntyre in a performance that blew me (and Broadway) away. She's now left, though, and there are rumours of trying to get Dolly Parton to follow in her footsteps. Watch this space.

On the plays front, this year's Tony Best Play (and Pulitzer Prize) winner, Proof (Walter Kerr), struck me as a poor man's Arcadia or Copenhagen. Unlike those plays, where the scientific theories they centre around are actually discussed, you have to take the importance of the mathematical proof that lies at the heart of David Auburn's play entirely on trust, since it isn't explained at all. Likewise, Mary-Louise Parker's Tony-lauded performance seemed to me more like a collection of ticks and nasal mannerisms rather than a fully realised character.

Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife (Barrymore), which like Proof also originated at off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club, I also found to be a disappointingly threadbare comedy of Manhattan manners that will be lost on those from elsewhere. The Tony-winning Best Play Revival, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is the production seen here at the Barbican last summer, illuminated by a bravura turn from Gary Sinise in the Jack Nicholson role.

Off Broadway

Meanwhile, New York's Off-Broadway scene continues to offer a lively, and Lower-priced, alternative to the Great White Way, as it has long done in more intimate spaces all over Manhattan. Several of the best venues seem to be concentrated nowadays in the Union Square area, where the enterprising Vineyard Theatre Company produces new plays and musicals across 15th Street from the appealing Century Center. The latter is a receiving house for excellent productions like its current tenant, Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby (with New York theatrical stalwarts Marian Seldes and Brian Murray both in fine comic form in roles taken in the original Almeida production by Frances de la Tour and Alan Howard). Just down the road in a former bank is the Argentinian rave circus installation De La Guarda (seen in London at the Roundhouse), and around the corner is the Union Square Theatre, home to the new cult musical Bat Boy.

Off-Broadway also has its long-runners, among them such inevitable musical revues as Forbidden Broadway (Douglas Fairbanks), {I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change::E01539516661} (Westside Theatre) and Naked Boys Singing (Actors' Playhouse). But there are also such new and interesting musicals as the late Jonathan Larsen's pre-Rent piece, tick tick...Boom!. Posthumously receiving its reworked premiere at the Jane Street Theatre, it offers a touching autobiographical picture of the life of a struggling, 30-year-old composer, wondering if he'll ever hit the big time, with the special poignancy of the event being that when he did, just five years later, he never lived to see it.

Outdoors

But the most anticipated event of the summer has to be the Central Park production of The Seagull. Under the direction of Mike Nichols, an all-star cast - featuring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, John Goodman, Christopher Walken and Natalie Portman - will mount Chekhov's play at the New York Public Theatre's outdoor Delacorte auditorium. Tickets are free, but expect queues to form early. They are distributed at the venue (and downtown at the Public) from 1pm on the day of the performances, which take place from 24 July to 19 August.


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