T.S. Eliot knew what he was talking about
April is the cruelest month. First of all, there's a Broadway opening every 10 minutes, as producers frantically race to get their entries in as close to the Tony nominations deadline as possible. Of course, this results in an extremely grumpy press corps, who barely have time to digest one offering before they have to face another. By the end of April, they've become a bunch of nervous wrecks, so sleep-deprived that they can barely tell the difference between The Producers and Judgment at Nuremberg.
There are other examples of Spring Fever. Exhibit #1: The recent Variety review of the New Haven tryout of a new musical, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Critic Markland Taylor wrote about Heidi Ettinger's settings, “Because they have been designed and built specifically for the Minskoff, they could not be used in New Haven.” This is a first. Usually, when you take a show out of town, you take the whole show out of town, not just the portable sections. Apparently, the idea is New Haven audiences should be satisfied to get part of a new show instead of the whole thing, but I am extremely dubious about this.
Oddly enough, this decision might have boomeranged on Tom Sawyer's producers, because Taylor continued, “The simple aptness of director Scott Ellis' staging of the musical at the Shubert Theatre on an essentially empty stage works surprisingly well, and it's to be hoped that it won't be compromised by too much scenery.” It just seems to me, either you need the set or you don't. If you need the set, then don't do the show without it. If you don't need it, then why do you have one?
Anyway, Tom Sawyer does have a formidable design team. Beside Ettinger, there's Anthony Powell, doing his first Broadway costumes since Sunset Blvd., lighting designer Ken Posner, and sound designer Lew Mead. Ettinger, of course, designed the celebrated scenery for Big River, based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, back in 1985. (She was Heidi Landesman in those long-ago days). In any event, Variety noted that the show improved enormously during its New Haven engagement, so things may be looking up for Tom and his friends.
Exhibit #2: The press release announcing the April 30th Broadway opening of a new solo play, George Gershwin® Alone. No, that's not a misprint. Gershwin, dead these many years, has been given a register mark. Anyone laboring under the misimpression that he was a great composer must now face the fact that he has become a brand — like Clorox or Tide. One assumes that this is the prelude to rolling out the official George Gershwin T-shirts, coffee mugs, and calendars, but don't expect me to buy any. This is one of the most offensive developments yet in our market-driven, brand-crazy culture. I suppose next we'll be seeing South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein™. (Maybe Stephen Sondheim will have to merge with Kander and Ebb). Although the Gershwin® press release is filled with amusing tidbits (“Research for the project was capped off by travel to most known locations where George Gershwin performed or composed”), it contains no information about the designers — perhaps they're at the US Patent Office, getting trademarked.
Exhibit #3: La Jolla Playhouse has announced that next season, it will produce the new Frank Wildhorn show, titled The Musical Dracula. Again, it's not a misprint. Now, I don't love the way shows are regularly subtitled “The Musical,” as if we're too stupid to figure that out by ourselves (One of these days, I just know we're going to get Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea: The Musical). But The Musical Dracula sounds like a proofreader's error. Something tells me that a show titled Dracula, the Musical already exists and Wildhorn wants to avoid any confusion. Maybe they could call it Dracula®, the Musical. Anyway, The Musical Dracula doesn't open until the fall, so there's plenty of time to come up with a new title, so get cracking.