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Song catalogues continue to woo producers and bullets for Broadway shows

Audra McDonald in Lady Day. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
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Above and beyond the Broadway closings already announced, and in many cases already completed, two more shows announced this week that they’d be calling it quits. The Tupac Shakur musical Holler If Ya Hear Me closes this Sunday at the Palace after a run of just two months, having underperformed throughout that time, with its weekly gross sales never topping $200,000, a level that likely wouldn’t sustain a small play, let alone a large scale musical. In mid-August, Rocky Balboa will hang up his gloves at the Winter Garden as Rocky The Musical fails to go the distance after a run of six months, despite the innovative and much discussed mechanics of its climatic boxing bout. Rocky is only the third musical to have been a tenant at the Winter Garden since 1982, following Cats and Mamma Mia! These closings will set off a new round of theatre jockeying as shows awaiting homes for the current season (including the Side Show revival) will now seek to convince theatre owners that they’d be the ideal tenant – although as of yesterday An American in Paris has snagged the Palace. No doubt many people are keeping close watches on Bullets Over Broadway at the St James and Cinderella at the Broadway as well, to see whether they’ll try to push on after the back-to-school season begins, or potentially open up yet two more big theatres best known as homes for musicals.


Song catalogues continue to be catnip for producers, though in the case of Off-Broadway’s Piece Of My Heart, it’s the children of 60s songwriter Bert Berns who have brought his music to the stage. During his seven-year career before his death from a heart ailment at age 38, Berns was a successful producer and songwriter behind such hits as “Cry Baby,” “I Want Candy,” “Here Comes The Night,” and “Hang On Sloopy.” Monday’s opening is likely to tell whether his story will perform like either of two prior songwriter musicals: the current Broadway hit Beautiful, or 1985’s Ellie Greenwich disappointment Leader of the Pack.

Zak Resnick and the cast of Pieces of My Heart. Photo: Jenny Anderson
Zak Resnick and the cast of Pieces of My Heart. Photo: Jenny Anderson

Elsewhere in song catalogue news, a deal has been struck to develop a musical based on the songs from Memphis’s Stax label, a competitor with Motown during the 1960. Stax artists included Booker T and the MGs, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. Matthew Benjamin, son of the show’s producer Stuart Benjamin, is slated to write the book. So Motown, now in its second year on Broadway, may yet be competing with Stax again on new turf. A 1973 concert of Stax artists in Los Angeles yielded a classic concert film, Wattstax.

Joely Richardson has been announced to play the title role in an Off-Broadway revival of The Belle of Amherst this fall. The William Luce solo show about poet Emily Dickinson was a signature role (admittedly, among many) for the late Julie Harris, who won one of her several Tony Awards when she appeared in the play on Broadway in 1976. Steve Cosson of The Civilians, who staged Mr Burns last fall at Playwrights Horizons, directs, and the producer is Don Gregory, who also produced the Harris version almost 40 years ago.

Audra McDonald’s Tony-recognized, record-setting performance in Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill has been extended yet again at Broadway’s Circle in the Square, now playing through September 21. But that’s likely to be the very end of the run, as the theatre is booked with the US premiere of Jez Butterworth’s The River, which is set to start previews on October 31. Lady Day was originally scheduled to play only 10 weeks and began performances at the end of March.

Between Riverside and Crazy, the newest play by Stephen Adly Guirgis (The Motherfucker With The Hat, Jesus Hopped the A Train) makes its debut at the end of the month at the Atlantic Theatre Company, under the direction of Austin Pendleton. The lead role of a retired New York police officer with an axe to grind with the city marks the largest role to date for Stephen McKinley Henderson, a veteran of both original productions and major revivals of the work of August Wilson (including Jitney at the National Theatre in 2001). Henderson was most recently seen on Broadway in the just shuttered revival of A Raisin in the Sun.

Finally, kudos to the new Broadway revival of the classic musical On The Town. To drum up advance excitement, the show released a recreation of the film version’s iconic opening number, albeit one set in present-day New York, resulting in some charming anarchronisms. While we obviously won’t be seeing it onstage like this, the video is an expertly executed delight.

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