Curtain Up on 2009

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Well it's starting to happen. It was recently reported that Vanities, a musical staged by the Pasadena Playhouse last fall, is no longer moving to Broadway. The reason the producers gave for what was optimistically called a postponement, not a cancellation: "the volatile economic climate."

As we start 2009, it seems that we may be hearing this refrain more often than we want to in the future. I guess the best we can hope for is that if the recession is going to affect theater in America, at least it can claim some of the fluffier work that's out there. If Vanities doesn't reach a wider audience, I think American theater will survive; however, if the Donmar Warehouse production of Schiller's drama Mary Stuart, which is scheduled to open in April gets cancelled, I'm not so sure.

That production, starring London theater legend and Academy Award Nominee, Janet McTeer is set to open on Broadway in April. And since we're looking ahead in the New Year, here are a couple of other productions that I'm hoping don't get cancelled due to the "current economic crisis."

In February, The Geffen Playhouse is scheduled to stage the world premiere of the new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies. Now, this was cancelled once before — not due to any credit crunch, the play just wasn't ready. Then it was titled The Elephant in the Room. Now it's called Time Stands Still and will star Alicia Silverstone.

In March the Old Globe Theater in San Diego will mount a revival of Working, a Stephen Schwartz musical contraption from the 1970's. Based on a book by the recently departed Studs Terkel, Working is about everyday workers — and this new production is going to feature new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and star of last year's Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights.

In April, Broadway will see the first revival of Beckett's Waiting for Godot in over 50 years. This time around, the two men who go nowhere — and take two and a half hours to do it — will be played by Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin.

Looking way ahead to July is a show I've been waiting to see for over two years: Elizabeth Meriwether's Heddatron. I missed its brief New York run back in 2006, but Center Theatre Group is bringing this mash-up of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (supposedly starring real life robots) to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

And no year is complete without a big-name, celebrity Shakespeare revival. In 2007 it was Ian McKellen playing King Lear at UCLA Live! In 2008 it was Patrick Stewart playing Macbeth in New York. In 2009, it will be Jude Law playing Hamlet in the West End. Directed by an actor who knows a little bit about the part, Kenneth Branagh, this Hamlet will be performed in London all summer. Tickets just went on sale and already they're about two-thirds booked. If the Stewart and McKellen shows were any indication, expect these tickets to be selling come June (on Craigslist and from scalpers) with two or three hundred percent mark-ups.

If this holds true, it means that for the first time in a while Shakespeare tickets offer greater safety and better return on your investment than most stocks or even real estate—and unlike those troubled assets, even if you can't sell them for more than what you paid for in six months, you still get to see an evening of theater.

Happy New Year…and to audiences and theaters both, best of luck in 2009.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.