It-s Thanksgiving today so what better to talk about than Turkeys.
Los Angeles theatergoers have had a pretty good year in 2003, especially during this fall season. At the larger houses in town, shows like HOMEBODY KABUL, ANNA IN THE TROPICS, and THE PRODUCERS have given a good taste of the more notable work to come out of New York recently.
The UCLA LIVE! International theater festival brought TWELFTH NIGHT here for two weeks-a real treat, especially since this acclaimed Mark Rylance production won-t be playing in New York City. And some of the smaller houses here are providing hearty fare as well. Three provocative shows currently running are Powerhouse Theatre-s THE SHAGG-s, Tim Robbins- EMBEDDED at The Actor-s Gang, and Open Fist Theatre Company-s THE COSMONAUT-S LAST MESSAGE TO THE WOMAN HE ONCE LOVED IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION, a modest but effective production of a fascinating play by Scottish playwright David Greig. [and an early favorite for the longest title of the season award.]
The point is, Angelinos have had some theater to be thankful for this season; it may not be a dramatic feast, but is not the theatrical famine that is currently taking place in New York.
This Broadway season has been so bad, that last Thursday it made the front page of the New York Times.
For the first time in years (and only the fourth time since 1980) a Broadway show closed before it even opened. That play, BOBBI BOLAND, was to be Farrah Fawcett-s Broadway debut. Officially, the play was cancelled in previews because the producers claim -it didn-t work in a Broadway house- but the New York tabloids say that Fawcett was drunk and didn-t know her lines.
If only such drama were onstage instead of off.
That was a few weeks ago-the most recent Turkey to bomb on Broadway proved to be OLDEST LIVING CONFEDERATE WIDOW TELLS ALL which amazingly closed the day after opening night. One would think that a show with the literary pedigree of a best-seller and a fine actress, Ellen Burstyn, would at least run for a few weeks-but the reviews were so bad, that even a second night proved to be too frightening a prospect for the producers.
Other shows are dropping fast too, Jackie Mason-s latest Broadway offering is tanking-as is SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS, a show that recently had a successful run at the Geffen playhouse. How can a show do well at the Geffen and then fail on Broadway? Casting. Here in Los Angeles, the Geffen showcased David Hyde Pierce and Uta Hagen. Not bad. On Broadway, the play starred Mark Hamill and Polly Bergen. Not so good-and Bergen was just a replacement. The producers originally announced that DANCE LESSONS would star Hamill and Rue McClanahan. Just imagine: Luke Skywalker and Blanche Devereaux together on-stage for the very first time.
But perhaps the biggest Turkey of all this season is the new musical TABOO. The reviews for this show have not been quite as awful as the aforementioned plays, but the musical is considered a mess-and what-s more, it-s an expensive mess. The Boy George musical was a hit in London where Rosie O-Donnell saw it, loved it and vowed to bring it to Broadway. Well, she has and it may well cost her $10 million. The show is playing to half empty audiences and were it not for O-Donnell-s financial commitment to keep it afloat, TABOO would have probably shuttered by now.
Sadly, no one on Broadway is talking about what show will win the Tony, the only question is will TABOO break the record for being the worst flop in history, set only last year with the infamous DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES.
For theatergoers in Los Angeles, the failures of these New York shows are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, there will be a severe drought in a year-s time, as it-s unlikely that TABOO, or WICKED, or THE BOY FROM OZ will have touring shows that come to L.A. But on the other hand, this shortage of New York imports may force Los Angeles theaters to develop and stage some original productions-something that the actors, writers, and the rest of the L.A. Theater community would truly be thankful for.
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.