Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hot or Not 2007: Theater's heroes & villains

by Joe Dzienmianowicz

Hot: CASTS THAT CLICK Extraordinary ensembles enlivened Broadway in three productions that opened during one week in December, "August: Osage County" (the best and my favorite show of 2007), "The Seafarer" and "Is He Dead?" Earlier in the year "The Coast of Utopia" crackled with its group dynamics.

Not: ADS THAT TRICK The brains behind the Broadway revival of "Grease," whose leads were cast on a reality TV show, ran a newspaper advertisement misrepresenting critics who didn't exactly endorse the show. Brains behind the Off-Broadway musical "Walmartopia" also got a little too creative with the quotes.

Hot: THE SUMMER OF LOVE The Public Theater's superlative productions of "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, along with a staged concert of "Hair" there, meant great theater in the great outdoors.

Not: THE AUTUMN OF DISCONTENT The Broadway stagehands strike that began on Nov. 10 and shut down most of Broadway for the next 19 days cost the city upwards of $40 million. The expense to theatergoers who missed chances to see a show: immeasurable.

Hot: SIZZLING FIRSTS Claire Danes, as the flower girl-turned-proper lady in "Pygmalion," Bobby Cannavale, as a schemer and a dreamer in "Mauritius," and Fantasia, as a woman who finally triumphs in the musical "The Color Purple," all made their Broadway debuts magical and memorable.

Not: FIZZLING SECONDS - AND 13THS Lackluster revivals of the boy-meets-girl mood piece "Prelude to a Kiss" in February, "Old Acquaintance" in June, the gay bathhouse farce "The Ritz" in October and the swashbuckling romance "Cyrano de Bergerac" in November (its 12th Broadway redo) made us wonder why the producers even bothered.

Hot: SMALL MUSICALS, BIG DELIGHTS At $4 million, cheap for Broadway, the flop movie-turned-hit stage musical "Xanadu" is 90 minutes of campy hilarity. Off-Broadway, the Civilians' "Gone Missing," about New Yorkers who've lost personal possessions, found its way into my heart and head.

Not: MASSIVE MUSICALS, PUNY PAYOFFS Massive and misguided shows remind us that bigger isn't always better. "The Pirate Queen" cost $16 million and sank after 85 performances. The even more expensive "Young Frankenstein" is currently running, but it disappoints as often as it dazzles.

Hot: MULTITASKING Of several actors who played a variety of parts on stages this year, two stand out. Boyd Gaines went from playing a reassuring soldier in "Journey's End" to a devoted companion to Patti LuPone's Rose in "Gypsy" to a levelheaded Col. Pickering in "Pygmalion." Meanwhile, Martha Plimpton revved up the stage whenever she was on it in "The Coast of Utopia," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Cymbeline."

Not: COMPOUND FRACTURES James Carpinello dropped out of "Xanadu" when he broke his foot and was permanently replaced. Director Daniel Sullivan busted some ribs when he took a fluke header while rehearsing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the Park.

Hot: INGENIOUS PRICING Producers of "August: Osage County," "The Homecoming" and "November," which begins previews Thursday, offer a subscription series in which you can buy orchestra or front mezzanine tickets for all three plays for $199. Thanks.

Not: RAVENOUS PRICING Producers of "Young Frankenstein" offer $450 "premium" seats in the orchestra. No thanks.