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A costly Betrayal, Julie Taymor returns and new musical composers on Sesame Street

Rafe Spall, Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig in rehearsals for Betrayal. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
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The starry Broadway production of Pinter’s Betrayal, with Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall, keeps trumpeting its box-office sales records even before it opens this Sunday evening.

But its gross sales, at a level rarely seen for a non-musical, have invited comment about the accessibility of tickets to the less-than-well-heeled: The New York Times editorial page took note that the “impressive revenues are just a reflection of astronomical ticket prices.” 

After the much chronicled debacle of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, visionary director Julie Taymor is returning to the stage for the first time since that tabloid spectacle with a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the not-for-profit Theatre for a New Audience. The show will inaugurate TFANA’s first permanent home, a 299-seat newly built theatre in the Brooklyn cultural district. But Taymor can’t quite put the past behind her: the show opens on November 2 and three days later, her Spider-Man collaborator Glen Berger publishes Song of Spider-Man, his insider account of the show’s troubled history.

The rock musical has been the subject of conversation dating back at least to Jesus Christ Superstar, yet for many years those shows were most often written by musical theatre folks adopting a rock style.

40 years on, rock stars have adopted theatre whole heartedly, and it seems musical theatre and true rock may no longer be mutually exclusive. Sting’s The Last Ship is headed to Broadway next fall after a summer 2014 stint in Chicago; the Police frontman showcased the score with 10 solo benefit performances The Public Theatre in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, John Mellencamp’s collaboration with Stephen King and T-Bone Burnett, The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, has launched a touring concert version following its premiere last year at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Imelda Marcos musical Here Lies Love was a hot ticket during its extended run (also at The Public) but a pending transfer to a commercial run has been delayed at least until next year for lack of a suitable venue.

The US is also braced for the national tour of We Will Rock You, which has previously only been seen in Las Vegas, despite its decade of success in the West End; Ben Elton has tweaked the show for its new incarnation, adjusting his futuristic story in the wake of tech developments like smart phones and sprinkling in cultural reference points like Google and Justin Bieber. Capping this activity, a documentary of Green Day’s Broadway foray with American Idiot was released into movie theatres last week. I am still holding out hope that Madness musical Our House will one day reach US shores – and that Elvis Costello will at long last delve into musical theatre. 

Not a week goes by without a new musical based on movie, and the newest to get that treatment is Little Miss Sunshine, adapted for the stage by William Finn and James Lapine, collaborators on Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It’s in previews now at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage, with an opening on November 14. The new Broadway musical A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder also has a movie connection, because it’s drawn from the novel Israel Rank by Roy Horniman, the same source material for a famous British film. Not ringing any bells? You probably know it as Kind Hearts and Coronets, a tour de force for Sir Alec Guinness in 1949. Jefferson Mays, who won a Tony for his one-man turn in I Am My Own Wife, repeats the multiple roles he played in the musical’s original production at The Old Globe Theatre and Hartford Stage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEJCUyvI5sA

Even though the fall Broadway season has many openings yet to come, new projects for the spring are cropping up almost daily. Will Eno’s play The Realistic Jones boasts a cast including Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei, Dexter’s Michael C. Hall and playwright Tracy Letts; Letts is reprising his performance from the play’s debut at Yale Repertory Theatre last year. But big-name casts aren’t limited to Broadway: Off-Broadway’s The New Group begins previews next week with a new play by Pultizer Prize-winner Beth Henley, The Jacksonian, with Ed Harris, Glenne Headley, Amy Madigan and Bill Pullman repeating their performances in Robert Falls’ production, first seen in Los Angeles at The Geffen Playhouse.

Though not widely known outside of the theatre industry during the 1950s through the 1980s, “industrial shows” were often elaborate faux musicals created by major corporations for their clients as a unique means of hawking their wares. These vestiges of the Mad Men era were often ways for up and coming Broadway writers and composers to make good money while waiting for their big break. A new book, Everything’s Coming Up Profits, may well be the first comprehensive look at these little-seen and therefore largely forgotten shows. Fortunately, the book’s authors have set up a website with recovered audio tracks. If you’d like to hear “Golden Harvest” from the pre-Fiddler on the Roof Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Ford-i-fy Your Future, or “PDM (Power Distribution Management) Can Do” from John Kander and Fred Ebb, just as their Cabaret became a smash hit, this is the site for you.

Speaker of John Kander, at 86 years old, he has just seen the premiere of his newest musical, The Landing, at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre, just as his The Scottsboro Boys debuts in London. Written with playwright-lyricist Greg Pierce, The Landing is Kander’s first full collaboration without his longtime partner Ebb; the trio of one-acts features Julia Murney and Pierce’s uncle, David Hyde Pierce.

Finally, if some of the songs on Sesame Street have seemed a little more infectious than usual, that’s because some of musical theatre’s top composers have been contributing tunes to the legendary children’s show, now in its 45th year. National Public Radio just lifted the lid on the contributions of Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights), Tom Kitt (Next To Normal) and Jason Robert Brown (Parade) among others and even after a single listen, you may find yourself humming these tunes – even if you don’t have kids.

 

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