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ZZZZero for ZZZZorro

The "new" musical "Zorro," which Theater Under The Stars opened in Houston last week, received a bloody Z as in "zero," slashed on the chest by Chronicle reviewer Everett Evans, who said the show contained "everything old."

He slit the score, calling it primarily "familiar themes from classical composers awkwardly fitted with new lyrics." He sliced the wrists of those new lyrics, calling them "trite" and "pedestrian." And he stabbed the overall production in the heart, saying, "Co-authors Frank Young (who is also director) and Jim Bernhard (chief provider of new lyrics) have created a patchwork with mismatched pieces."

Via Con Dios, Don Diego.

Mayer Shares His Secrets

Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation presents "A Conversation with Michael Mayer," an interview with the busy Broadway director, conducted by playwright Craig Lucas, on Wed., Sept. 9 at 5 p.m. at New Dance Group Arts, 254 W. 47th Street.

During the 90-minute seminar, Mayer will discuss his creative approach, career paths and influences, and his thoughts on the future of the theatre. The event is open to the public. For reservations and additional info., call SDC Foundation at (212) 302-5359.

Governor Munster?

Hey, Ronald Reagan proved that an actor could serve as governor of a major state, then move on to be President. So why not Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis as governor of New York? Lewis, 88, who left us in stitches in the '60s as Grandpa on the popular "Munsters" TV series, wants to mend Albany's political process. He's running for governor on the Green Party ticket.

"I will get rid of the money-changers the thieves," he told The Associated Press, without identifying the villains by name. "I'm not a politician," he confided, adding that state government, rather than an august institution, is an "old TV show 'Let's Make A Deal.' "

Closings

The final curtain call at "An Evening with Jerry Herman," Aug. 23, has set the stage for several other shows that are now following suit. These include: the Tony-Award winning revival of "A View from the Bridge," at the Neil Simon Theatre, Aug. 29; Cole Porter's Broadway musical "High Society," at the St. James Theatre, Aug. 30; and Off-Broadway "Aphrodite's Dungeon" at the Looking Glass Theatre's Late Night Show, will close Aug. 29.

Inside Moves

As if "Jekyll & Hyde" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel" aren't enough resume credits for one season, composer Frank Wildhorn is now honing his next Broadway-bound show, "The Civil War." Bowing in at Houston's Alley Theatre next month, it is slated to open on Broadway in the spring, starring Wildhorn's wife and "Jekyll & Hyde" costar Linda Eder. More on Eder's own move later

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding," the third-longest running show in Off-Broadway history, has moved uptown, as of Aug. 6, after 11 years in Greenwich Village. The festivities begin with a wedding ceremony at St., Luke's Church, followed by a reception at Vinnie Black's Vegas Room in the Edison Hotel, next to the Lunt-Fontanne and across from the Richard Rodgers.

Cumming is Going

TonyAward-winner Alan Cumming will take a 10-week hiatus from the hit revival "Cabaret" to honor a film commitment. He leaves Sept. 14 to lens "Titus Andronicus," directed by double Tony-winner Julie Taymor. Replacing the flying Scotsman will be Robert Sella, sidling down the block from another Roundabout Theatre production -- "Side Man," which closes Sept. 13. Cumming is slated to return to "Cabaret" after Nov. 22.

Also moving on is Linda Eder, giving her final performance in B'way's "Jekyll & Hyde" on Aug. 30. Eder leaves to take the lead in her husband Frank Wildhorn's newest musical, "The Civil War," skedded to open on B'way next April. Luba Mason, recently seen in Paul Simon's "Capeman," and as Hedy LaRue in the B'way revival of "How to Succeed " will step into Eder's corset in "J&H."

Turner Turns Tallulah

After Kathleen Turner finishes filming "Prince of Central Park" with Steven Seagal, she'll jump into her fourth consecutive film role--then in November, she starts rehearsals for her pet project: a stage production long in the works about Hollywood's outspoken--and outrageous--Tallulah Bankhead. Turner will debut "Tallulah" in London, with plans to move the production to NY, if all goes well.

Emmy-winner Valerie Harper stars as Pearl Buck, in the one-woman show, "All Under Heaven," to premiere at the novelist's alma mater, Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, VA, Sept. 1-13. In the show, co-written by Harper with Dyke Garrison, Harper impersonates 14 male and female characters.

Premieres from Porgy to Dante

In honor of the Gershwin Centennial, the world premiere of the first full-length dance production of "Porgy and Bess" will be given by The Dallas Black Dance Theatre Company in three performances on Sept. 11 and 12 at the Eisenhower Theatre at the Kennedy Center.

And celebrating its 60th anniversary season, the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center will be presenting U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinksy's award-winning translation of "Dante's Inferno." Marking its world premiere Sept. 26-Oct. 4, at New York's Playhouse 91, "Inferno" will then go on a national tour.

Lincoln Center will be raising the curtain on the Harold Prince-Alfred Uhry-Jason Robert Brown musical "Parade," slated for a Dec. 17 opening. "Parade" is based on the true story of a Northern Jew, Leo Frank, (to be played by 1993 Tony Award- winning Brent Carver), who was unfairly convicted of murdering a 13-year-old girl in the American South in 1913. The backdrop: a raging newspaper war created by the sensational coverage of the trial.

Awards and Recognition

Julie Taymor is about to garner yet another honor: The Edith Head Award for her "Lion King" costumes. It will be presented by the Fashion Group International (FGI) on Sept. 17. This year--FGI's 15th--marks the first time, as suprising as it may sound, that The Edith Head Award, created as an homage to the legendary Hollywood costume designer and FGI cofounder, will be presented to an outstanding costume designer--Julie Taymor, who also directed the boffo musical.

Good Deeds

Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" will benefit La Bodega de la Familia/Neighborhood Drug Crisis Center. Directed by Jim Horton, "Burn This" runs Sept. 9-20 at Theatre 3 at 311 W. 43rd Street.

"Ragtime" star Brian Stokes Mitchell, who also wears the hat of celebrity chairman for the New York Blood Center, will make a personal appearance at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts (home of "Ragtime") which is hosting its first blood drive on Fri., Aug. 28, from 8:30 am-1:30 pm. Info: 1-800-933-2566

Good Deals

Now a trip to a Broadway show can also lead to a better body. Broadway's Get a Better Life Promotion has special offers on exercize, travel, dining and lifestyle. This is how it works. By simply admitting a desire to "Get a Better Life," theatregoers purchasing a full-price Broadway show ticket will receive a package of offers and discounts on: gym memberships, champagne, travel, meals, magazine subscriptions, VIP parties, and nightclub passes, among other benefits. Tickets for the package will be available for performances Sept. 14 through Sept. 27. Participating shows include: "Chicago," "Jekyll & Hyde," "Les Miz," "Miss Saigon," "The Phantom of The Opera," "Rent," "Smokey Joe's Cafe," "The Sound of Music," and "Titanic." Get a Better Life is a program of The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., the national trade organization for the Broadway industry. The League has developed the Get a Better Life promotion to further encourage young adults, 25-34, to experience Broadway regularly.

Along those lines, the league in tandem with the Theatre Development Fund, is offering free tickets to kids across the country. The national audience development program "Kids' Night on Broadway" is an annual event designed to introduce young people to live theatre in New York and 50 cities nationwide. On Mon. Oct. 19, tickets go on sale for performances in Jan. and Feb. Every adult purchasing a full-price ticket will recieve a free ticket for a child aged 6-18. For more info. call 1-888-411-BWAY, or 212-302-4111.

Hello, Egypt's Rose

Elton John is back at the keyboard with Disney's newest extravaganza, "Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida." Teamed once again with lyricist Tim Rice, John's latest musical venture stars "Lion King" veteran Heather Headley as Aida, and classical actor Hank Stratton as Radames. The show begins previews Sept. 11 at Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, with a Broadway berth a distinct possibility.

All in Fosse's Family

The troubled Livent plans to forge on with "Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance," a musical revue to be co-directed by former Fosse protegee Ann Reinking, along with Richard Maltby, Jr. and Chet Walker. Fosse's ex-wife Gwen Verdon serves as the project's artistic advisor; their daughter, Nicole Fosse, was the company's ballet mistress during the 8-week workshop in Toronto. "Fosse: A Celebration " is currently in tryouts: from Livent's Ford Center in Toronto, it moves to Boston's Colonial Theatre (Sept. 8-27), on to the Ahmanson in L.A. (Oct.9-Dec.6), and thence to Fosse's "good luck" house on Broadway--the Broadhurst.

Radical! "Flahooely" Revived

The first major revival of "Flahooely," the 1951 musical satire, will run from Sept. 10-26 at the theatre at St. Clements, 432 W. 46th St., NYC. The scathing social indictment (which was initially cut for timid Broadway audiences), boasts a score by Sammy Fain (many Disney musicals to his credit, including "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan,") lyricist Yip Harburg ("Finian's Rainbow," "The Wizard of Oz,") and book by Fred Saidy ("Finian's Rainbow," "Bloomer Girl"). "Flahooely", which introduced a young Barbara Cook, and tackled such targets as political witch-hunts, atomic energy, and racial intolerance, proved too daring for 1950s Broadway and an America in the midst of McCarthyism. For info. call (212) 246-7277, ext. 32.

Not Lion Down

1994 Grammy-winner and 1998 Tony Award nominee Lebo M., billed as "the voice and spirit of the Lion King" will garner a spot on Sardi's wall of fame. Lebo will attend a caricature signing presented by Vincent Sardi, Jr. in Sardi's Belasco Room, 243 W. 44th St., on Thursday, Aug. 27 at 5:30 p.m.

Nonstop "Soprano"

Philadelphia-based Brat Productions brings their 24-hour version of Ionesco's absurdist farce "The Bald Soprano" to the NY International Fringe Festival for literally one day, offering 24 performances of the one-act, every hour on the hour. The four leads, who switch roles every hour, as the performance commences anew, forge through hallucination and sleep deprivation, to explore the unending banality of Ionesco's socially constricted world. Starting Thursday, Aug. 27 at 8:00 p.m., running through Friday, Aug. 28 at 8:00 p.m., you can catch this unusual "Soprano" at Performance Space 122, 150 First Ave. at 9th Street. For more info. and tickets, call the FRINGENYC office at (212) 420-8877 or (212) 420-8888.

Roger Armbrust, Simi Horwitz, Leslie Carroll

"Art" to Chicago,

Though Theatre

Goes on BlockBy Jonathan Abarbanel

CHICAGO--A sit-down production of Yasmina Reza's "Art" will open at the Royal George Theatre on Sept. 27 (previews from the 17th), starring Michael Gross as Serge. Robert Perkins is the producer, and Maria Mileas will direct.

The cast will be completed by London's resident Canadian-American actor, Colin Stinton, as Marc, and Zach Galligan as Yvan.

Perkins is counting on a hit: he's signed his actors to 17-week contracts from the opening date, with an option for a two-month extension.

"Art" will proceed despite reports that Perkins has struck a deal to sell the Royal George, which he has owned for a decade.

Purpose-built in 1985, the complex includes a 450-seat mainstage, a 200-seat cabaret and a 75-seat studio theatre. The latter two have been occupied for years by productions of "Forever Plaid" and "Flannigan's Wake" respectively, while the mainstage largely has been dark.

The last Royal George hit was the pre-Broadway "Forever Tango," which Perkins closed early in order to bring in Uta Hagen in "Mrs. Klein." Neither that play, nor a Chicago company of "I Hate Hamlet" starring John Vickery, were as successful as anticipated.

Nation's Oldest Opera House ClosesThe Majestic Theater in Chillicothe, Ohio, was closed July 1 by its nonprofit operating board. The venue is a former vaudeville house, and is believed to be the nation's oldest continuously operating theatre.

The nonprofit group that ran the theatre raised an estimated $800,000 to improve the facility in an effort to keep it open.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the theatre was most recently used as a movie house, and charged only $2.50 per ticket. The last movie to be shown at the Majestic was the highly successful "Titanic." This seems a fitting end for a theatre that has hosted the likes of such greats as Laurel and Hardy, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Milton Berle, and Buffalo Bill Cody.

The 530-seat venue is now up for sale, and in the meantime is available for rentals. There is no word yet on what will occupy the building next. In the past, the Majestic has had some strange tenants and purposes. In 1918, it was used as a morgue during a flu epidemic that claimed over 1,000 lives in one month.St. Clare's,

Broadway's Friend,

To Be RenovatedBy Peter Shaughnessy

St. Clare's Hospital and Health Center, which has served the Broadway community since it was built in 1934, is about to undergo a $45 million renovation.

Over the next 20 months, St. Clare's, which stands at 415 W. 51st St., will get an external face-lift. It will also receive internal repairs.

In addition to its medical services, the Center also provides free health talks through its staff of physicians. For more information on the Center's heath talks, medical services, or other locations, call (212) 265-8950.

March on Cancer

In other health news, The March, an annual event held in Washington, D.C., to raise money for Cancer research, will be held this year on Sept. 25 & 26. If you can't make it to Washington, there will be hundreds of marches, rallies, and vigils at other locations across the country.

There are many ways one can offer help to this cause. To find out about them, call The March toll-free at (877)-THE-MARCH. or visit its website at www.themarch.org.

SFX Rolls On:

Pace Purchases

Boston TheatresBy Roger Armbrust

Follow the money. And don't blink.

In May, Back Stage reported that Boston newspapers believed New York's Pace Theatrical Group was trying to buy Boston-based American Artists, a producing company owned by Jon B. Platt. Neither Platt's nor Pace's offices would comment.

But in recent weeks it became a done deal, with Pace spending $25.7 million to take over Platt's Colonial and Wilbur theatres, and Charles Playhouse, all in Boston.

The transaction news was basically buried because Pace is a subsidiary of SFX Entertainment, which is sucking up performance venues nationwide like a famished aardvark at a fresh anthill. SFX has spent nearly $300 million in the past three months--according to The Hollywood Reporter--purchasing a number of firms involved in concert promotion, sports marketing, and concert ticketing arenas. That included Magicworks Entertainment, a Florida-based company with previous ties to Pace. And Variety reported this week that New York-based SFX had received a Bank of New York commitment to increase the firm's available acquisitions capital to $600 million.

Pace's Boston presence could raise the energy level of Beantown theatre. The Boston Globe has noted that the city's five commercial theatres "are rarely lit simultaneously" and that local producers don't see enough product to support all the theatres.

Pace is a commercial producing and touring corporation currently involved--with the Boston additions--in 48 theatres.

Producers Keep New York Talent Close to the VestBy Murdoch McBride

Last month, TeleVest senior vice-president and managing director Phil Dixson, who produces "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light," stood beside Mayor Giuliani at a City Hall press conference and told the media that the real reason his shows were staying in New York was to remain close to Gotham's pool of theatrical talent. It was a nice affirmation, but it was just one of many clear signals that New York's creative resources are becoming more and more important.

Of course, Dixson has close ties to television and theatre, but also to Proctor & Gamble (P&G), which contracts with TeleVest to produce and oversee its soap operas.

Just a few weeks after Dixson's remarks at City Hall, P&G sponsored an "industry talk," reported in The New York Times (Mon., Aug. 24). The high level discussions focused marketing professionals on such topics as the future of using storytelling as a means of selling soap, and whether or not the Internet would soon surpass television in product marketing.

Judging by the collective wisdom reported in the Times, it would seem safe to bet on the soaps for the time being. It seems that technical limitations on the web (file sizes), prohibitive costs in distribution for smaller products (like soap), and an unestablished record for influencing marketing trends have precluded companies like P&G from investing more on Internet marketing.

In fact, the Times reported, only about .4 percent of P&G's annual advertising budget of $3 billion is spent on the Internet.

If this seems reassuring for actors and others working hard to tell the story, consider some of the recent brick and mortar investments related to keeping film and television production companies happy and active in the Big Apple. There are the 700,000-square foot New York Studios planned for the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the independent Shooting Gallery in New Jersey, and the new home for TeleVest, Hudson River Studios (HRS). These studios will add new capacity for Gotham film and television producers. Right now, there are 600,000 sq. ft. of production space available in the city, according to Julianne Cho at the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

The most recent announcement of studio construction involved Dixson's company, TeleVest, which will make a new home for "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light' at HRS. Now under construction, HRS will boast a $120 million, five-studio film and television complex, built atop the St. John's Center at Houston and West Streets. Described as a state-of-the-art production and post-production facility, the complex will be among the first of its kind in Manhattan to feature digital and HDTV technology. Each of the five studios will range in size from 12,500 to 18,300 sq. ft.

Last month, at City Hall, when asked about cost comparisons with other cities, Dixson told reporters it had become just as expensive to do daytime dramas on the West Coast. The determining factor, he told Back Stage, was New York's pool of theatrical talent.

"You can distinguish the cast of an East Coast soap from others," Dixson explained. "The performances speak for themselves, and the actors are better trained. Some of our best people are those with theatrical backgrounds--from floor direction to camera and art departments, they all have some lineage back to theatre.

"The building of this studio is a very important event for the talent community and for the production community," said Dixson. "Proctor & Gamble, along with several other producers, has been trying for a long time to get a state-of-the-art facility to come to New York. There are other venues that would have been cheaper for us, such as right-to-work states like Georgia, the Carolinas, and Florida.

"But none of those had the 'bench strength' that you have here--above the line with the Guild, and below the line with the crafts."

TeleVest's commitment to New York talent is not unique.

The HRS complex is being built to meet a growing demand for soundstages and production and post-production facilities in New York. The city has seen record-breaking levels of film and television production in each of the last four years. More than 105 television shows, 200 movies, and 4,000 commercials were filmed in New York last year.

Even so, the City's Office of Film and Television was unable to meet the full demand for space.

"Hudson River Studios will play a major role in helping to expand New York City's growing television and film industries," said Mayor Giuliani. "In 1997, direct expenditures [from the production of films, television series and specials, commercials, and music videos] totaled $2.37 billion compared to $2.23 billion recorded in 1996."

The complex will require 100,000 sq. ft. in renovations to the existing building and 320,000 sq. ft. in new construction. City officials concur with developers who predict that a net increase of 500-600 permanent jobs will be created by the new studio, in addition to hundreds of construction jobs connected with building the facility.

"This is an investment in real jobs and in economic growth," said Hudson River Productions' Ronald Picket. As project developer for HRS, Picket says this is "the type of partnership opportunity between labor and business that will help continue to fuel our economy."

Mortgage financing for the HRS project is being supplied by Union Labor Life Insurance Company, while equity financing is being provided by Hudson River Productions LLC. Pre-construction has already begun on the complex, which was designed by project architects Meridian Design Associates.

The studios will eventually boast edit suites, a scenic shop, warehouse space, an on-site cafƒ, an exercise training center, children's play area, and creative suites for producers, directors, writers, and talent.

"The city has made itself extremely accessible to us," explained HRS president Richard Benowitz. "From the Mayor on down, they've been helpful. They want to see studios built in the city."

Having TeleVest as a long-term tenant gave Hudson River Productions the opportunity to build a state-of-the-art facility in Manhattan, which Benowitz described as a first.

Though there are other studios in Manhattan, HRS boasts that it is the first to be built as a production facility.

"The CBS studio was a dairy," Benowitz said. "All those ramps make it great for television, but those ramps were actually built to accommodate dairy trucks. The NBC studio was a radio studio and ABC was originally St. Nick's Arena. Ours is the first one built from the ground up, at least built for television.

"The Mayor's office said they turned away 200,000 sq. ft. worth of studio rental income last year because there was no place to shoot."

Jujamcyn Plans St. James RedoBroadway's St. James Theatre will receive a sprucing up that should last several months.

The renovation will cause the theatre to be closed following the Aug. 30 farewell performance of "High Society," according to Playbill On-Line.

Rocco Landesman, Jujamcyn's president, called a year-end booking of the theatre "unlikely," adding, "It's rare we have a window of opportunity this long" which will allow extensive refurbishment.

The theatre probably will reopen early next year. "Civil War," a new musical, is scheduled to open at the theatre on April 22.

NAMT Features Eight Musicals Sept. 13-14 The National Alliance for Musical Theatre has announced eight new musicals to be presented on Theatre Row at the Douglas Fairbanks and John Houseman Theatres, Sept. 13-14.

Celebrating its 10th year on the scene, the Festival is attended by New York theatre insiders and by Alliance members nationwide. It is the largest annual gathering of musical theatre professionals in the world.

As always, the musical selection is eclectic, representing an array of stories, sensibilities, and musical styles. Several shows, however, are generating pre-festival buzz, most notably "Barrio Babies," a musical chronicling the adventures of Latino actors and writers trying to define themselves in a Hollywood world overflowing with stereotypes. "Barrio Babies" has already won the much coveted 1997 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre. And its book-writer Luis Santerio garnered this year's Kleban Foundation Award, given annually to the most promising librettist. (He shared the award with two other writers).

Other anticipated NAMT showings include "Blackbirds of Broadway," a salute to Broadway revues of the 1920s and 1930s, that featured famous black performers; "The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin," a story of self-acceptance written and composed by Kirsten Childs, one of eleven artists chosen to participate in the National Music Theatre Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Conn.; and "King Island Christmas," a fantasy-like piece, celebrating faith and community, set on a remote Alaskan island.

Esperanza Sues

San Antonio

On Defunding By Peter Shaughnessy

The Esperanza Center, a progressive arts organization, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court last week against its home city, San Antonio, which recently cut its funding.

The lawsuit, according to the Center, seeks to "ensure fairness and respect for all people and to protect the fundamental principles of diversity, democracy, and justice."

The San Antonio Lesbian and Gay Media Project and VAN are also plaintiffs in the case, since the Esperanza acts as their fiscal sponsor.

The lawsuit asks that the San Antonio City Council restore funding for these and other arts groups in the city, to remove prejudice and favoritism from public funding in the future, and to respect the principles of free speech.

The Center asserts that its public funding was cut off in 1997 after a public lobbying campaign by right-wing groups. The Esperanza Center released a statement saying, "The arts organizations were targeted for defunding by conservative groups because of the Esperanza's activities and programs related to cultural diversity, human rights, environmental justice, and reproductive freedom."

The Esperanza Center also says that during the review process for arts funding, they and the other organizations received high marks and positive comments from both citizen review panels as well as from the Cultural Arts Board, which was appointed by the City Council.

Said Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the Esperanza Center, "Respeto es basico--basic to family, community, and democracy. This means we must have respect for other people for different points of view, and even respect for those who we don't agree with."

In response to the filing of the lawsuit, San Antonio City Attorney Frank Garza said, "We have no choice but to really not fund them, because our current contracts say that if an entity sues the city, then you lose funding."

Sanchez said that no city money would be used to file the lawsuit, and asserts that the city cannot by law punish a group for exercising its constitutional rights.

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