As the year began, the unions and guilds were active, with Actors' Equity denying efforts by the producers of "Maybe Baby It's You" to reduce the show's eight-performance weekly performance schedule. Equity Executive Director said it "would set a dreadful precedent" for the show to adopt a four-performance schedule in January and February, and held to his decision even though the Equity cast begged for the union "to consider things on a case-by-case basis."
Around the same time, Equity approved a new Theatre for Young Audiences agreement, as well as a new contract for use in San Francisco and the eight surrounding counties in Northern California.
The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC) started the new year with more members than ever before in its 40-year history. Its 1,278 members and 283 associates filed approximately 1,540 contracts in the previous year, and the pension fund, covering 114 members, was up to a healthy $22.4 million as 2000 began.
Eight Broadway shows closed in January, but the sad news was somewhat offset by the announcement of numerous Off-Broadway shows that planned to move uptown. Some were to prove successful—"Contact" went on to win the Best Musical Tony Award—while others would not ultimately pay their investors back ("Squonk" and "The Green Bird," for instance).
The theatre community was stunned when George White tendered his resignation at the Eugene O'Neill Center in Connecticut, and Jon Jory tendered his resignation at the Actors Theatre of Louisville (ATL) in Kentucky, after each had been at his respective job for more than three decades. Jory, ATL's producing director for 31 years, founded the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays, which launched many playwrights' careers. White founded the O'Neill Center in 1965, and oversaw it as it grew to incorporate the National Playwrights Conference, the National Critics Institute, the National Puppetry Conference, the National Music Theatre Conference, and the Cabaret Symposium.
The drive to bring theatre to living rooms across America picked up steam with the creation of Broadway Television Network, a new company that successfully navigated contract negotiations with Equity, SSDC, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. BTN—with the Shubert Organization, the Nederlan-der Organization, Jujamcyn, and SFX Entertainment among its investors— launched itself by taping the final performance of "Smokey Joe's Café."
The Broadway production of "Saturday Night Fever," ignored by most of the legit community when it opened the previous October, finally got people talking when it suddenly dismissed its stage manager. Several cast members claimed the firing was in retaliation for the stage manager's participation in a company-wide complaint about the souvenir program, which omitted the performers' names. Equity Executive Director Eisenberg met with the show's general manager to investigate the situation, after three assistant stage managers, the resident choreographer, and the physical therapist all resigned in protest. Eventually the two sides came to "an amiable" (and, Eisenberg noted, "private and confidential and protected by the Constitution") resolution.
The Walt Disney Company, already with solid footing on Broadway, announced it would form a second division to produce live theatre. Hyperion Theatricals would handle shows not based on pre-existing animated features, while those cartoon shows would continue under the aegis of Disney Theatricals. Hyperion got to work immediately, bringing in Elton John and Tim Rice's "Aida" as its first Broadway offering.
Immediately thereafter, the Disney-owned "independent" movie producing division Miramax also got into the act on Broadway, by investing in the revival of "The Real Thing."
Ticket prices continued to rise, both on Broadway and Off-Broadway. For the first time in history, regular run Off-Broadway shows were going for $55 per ticket. When "The Countess" started charging that price for all seats, it defied predictions that business would fall. Instead, it rose.
Experts on arts funding pointed out the findings of a 1995 study by the Port Authority and the Alliance for the Arts "show a 3,000% return on the dollar." Arts funding in New York City had remained flat since the time of the study, the experts noted, while it rose across the rest of the country.
The nearly unthinkable happened: Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" posted its closing notice after 18 years at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Another company dedicated to broadcasting legit theatre was launched in February. Broadway Digital Entertainment, in collaboration with the Nederlander Organization, announced a joint venture called "Broadway Tonight!" that would sell pay-per-view packages of four original new shows each year. BDE is also the parent company of Broadway Theatre Archive, a library of more than 300 taped legit productions.
The long-running dispute between SSDC and the Dramatists Guild (DG) over copyright registration for stage business simmered, with charges and counter-charges flying in the pages of magazines and in a symposium at the DG headquarters. No decision was reached.
A longtime split that developed between Equity and the Swiss-based International Federation of Actors (IFA) healed when Equity Central Regional Vice President Madeline Fallon offered a motion to rejoin IFA at an Equity council meeting.
The American Theatre Critics Association named Coby Gross the winner of the Elizabeth Osborn Award for his play "Marked Tree."
The Manhattan Theatre Club opened the first of two musicals based on Joseph Moncure March's poem "The Wild Party" destined to bow during the year. This version had music, lyrics, and book by Andrew Lippa.
Former Tony Award voters who had been unceremoniously relieved of that responsibility in 1999 (125 in all) obtained a court order in March 2000 that forced the League of American Theatres and Producers to open its list of current voting members to scrutiny. Although the ex-voters continued to grumble about their unceremonious removal from the ceremony, their complaint ended with a whimper instead of a bang.
Real estate was a major point of concern for the legit community, with bulldozers knocking down three Theatre Row houses, the Alliance of Resident Theatres opening a multi-use theatre building in Brooklyn, and Ensemble Studio Theatre going even farther out–to Lexington, New York, where it bought a facility to be known (later) as the Lexington Center for Theatre, Dance, and Music. Also, the former Selwyn Theatre got a new name to go with its new interior, exterior, and tenant (the Roundabout Theatre Company). The new moniker, the American Airlines Theatre, was chosen to honor the most generous corporate donor to the Roundabout. Legendary producer Alexander Cohen grumbled, "What next? The Campbell's Pork and Beans Palace?"
Theatre Communications Group (TCG) also entered into corporate relationships but managed to avoid renaming itself or any of its facilities. TCG took over the AT&T: Onstage program and accepted $60,000 from Seagram/Universal to support theatres aligned with dramatists in the National Endowment for the Arts/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the recipients for the year was from New York State.
A dispute between Equity and the League of American Theatres and Producers over bus-and-truck tours was settled in Equity's favor. An arbitrator ruled that performers were due overtime pay when their travel was delayed and that producers had to pay sick pay to a principal actor fired under certain conditions.
Simon Fill won the Heideman Award for his short play "Night Visits," presented at the Humana Festival. Regina Taylor won the American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award for "Oo-Bla-Dee."
The president of Lincoln Center, Nathan Levanthal, announced his resignation after 16 years on the job. The center immediately set out to find his replacement.
The president of Kennedy Center, Lawrence Wilker, announced his resignation after nine years on the job. The center immediately set out to find his replacement.
Real estate issues continued to interest the community: Supporters and detractors of the planned sale of air rights from theatres to nearby high-rise buildings wrangled in court, with both sides envisioning terrible developments in the theatre district if they lost.
Equity and the League of Resident Theatres settled a longtime dispute over buyout money owed by actors who terminate their contracts without providing required notice. It was a compromise agreement, something that had become all but unknown in the 20th century.
After New York City cops shot and killed an unarmed Haitian immigrant, Patrick Dorismond, a few blocks south of Times Square, the Reverend Al Sharpton called for a protest in the theatre district. No theatregoers were prevented from getting to their seats, but Sharpton and several of his followers were arrested. Sharpton was nearly taken into custody for obstructing the New Amsterdam Theatre, even though "The Lion King," which normally plays there, had no performance planned that evening. Arrests were eventually carried out outside "Phantom of the Opera," "Saturday Night Fever," and Jackie Mason's one-man show.
David Margolis got the Pulitzer Prize for his domestic comedy-drama "Dinner with Friends." It was the third consecutive year the award went to an Off-Broadway show.
Authorities arrested the former comptroller of the J. Michael Bloom & Associates talent agency for allegedly embezzling $403,000 from agency clients. Another $300,000 was also allegedly embezzled by person or persons unknown.
Broadway producers Alexander Cohen and David Merrick, lifelong rivals, died within days of each other. Cohen died of respiratory failure April 22, at the age of 79. Merrick died in his sleep April 25, at the age of 88. Cohen had produced or co-produced 100 shows; Merrick had produced or co-produced 88.
The New Jersey legislature discussed ways of funneling money to the ailing Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick and the less-ailing Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. The Crossroads won the 1999 Tony for excellence in regional theatre but was in an unmistakable financial tailspin.
The Tony Award Administration Committee ruled that "Contact" is a musical, despite its absence of live musicians and original score. The Associated Musicians of Greater New York sang the blues about the decision, but the committee held firm to its decision.
April ended with the announcement that it had been the most lucrative month in Broadway history. Some 308,000 people spent $16,933,541 to see the 36 shows playing on the Main Stem, a spending level more than 25% higher than the previous year.
Broadway orchestrators joined their musician brethren in complaining about the decision to classify "Contact" as a Tony-eligible musical. The protest had no effect on the committee's decision; "Contact" was nominated for a Tony May 6.
The Drama Desk presented "Contact" with its outstanding musical award, "Copenhagen" with its top play award. "Kiss Me, Kate" and "The Real Thing" won for musical and straight play revival, respectively. Collective Unconscious' "Charlie Victor Romeo" was named Unique Theatrical Experience. The Outer Critics Circle also feted "Contact" and "Copenhagen" as outstanding Broadway musical and play.
Producer Cameron Mackintosh announced he would follow the closing of "Cats" with the closing of "Miss Saigon." By announcing the closing seven months in advance, he set a new record for the longest advance warning of a show's closure.
The New York Drama Critics Circle named "Jitney" the best play, "James Joyce's The Dead" as best musical, and "Copenhagen" the best foreign play. The critics agreed that "Contact" could contend as a musical, but it fell behind "The Dead" in the third round of balloting.
The Catholic League added Dario Fo to the list of playwrights it finds objectionable when his "The Pope and the Witch" opened at the Theatre for the New City. Catholic League President William Donohue suggested his organization would seek to have the theatre's public funding revoked, a threat that went nowhere.
Patrick Stewart, starring in the new Arthur Miller play "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan," grew incensed at what he considered insufficient advertising on the show, prompting him to lambaste the producers in curtain call speeches. The producers, particularly the Shubert Organization, were equally incensed, and brought Stewart up on charges. Eventually the actor agreed to abide by Equity's punishment: a private apology to Shubert chairman Gerald Schoenfeld.
Horton Foote and Suzan-Lori Parks were named winners of the PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Award to a Master American Dramatist.
A tour bus struck and killed 71-year-old actor Randall Walker as he returned to his home at Manhattan Plaza after an audition. Community outrage helped put the bus company out of commission for a couple of days.
"Contact" won the best musical Tony, to the dismay of pit musicians, orchestrators, and purists. Other winners included "Copenhagen" and "Kiss Me, Kate" as best play and best revival. Brian Stokes Mitchell won as best actor in a musical, Heather Headley won as best actress in a musical, while "The Real Thing" stars Stephen Dillane and Jennifer Ehle nabbed the awards for best actor and best actress in a play. For the first time in history, the same director won for helming a musical and a play: Michael Blakemore, who did the honors on "Copenhagen" and "Kiss Me, Kate."
Immediately after the Tony ceremony, Isabelle Stevenson, the chair of the American Theatre Wing, skipped the party and returned home, only to collapse at the curb outside her building. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was found to have a torn aorta. She recovered nicely, and amazingly quickly.
Kathleen Marshall announced her resignation from City Center's popular Encores! series. Jack Viertel of the Nederlander Organization was announced as her replacement.
Kelsey Grammer opened the new Broadway theatrical season with a whimper, closing prematurely in a production of the "Scottish Play" after a mere 13 unlucky performances.
Grammer's wasn't the only head that was rolling. The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance axed Artistic Director Ron Protas over monetary and control issues, even though Graham left him the copyrights to her dances in her will, starting a bitter feud that remains unresolved at this writing.
The late Alexander Cohen's estate was granted broadcast rights to the 20 years worth of Tony Awards telecasts that he produced, after arbitration proceedings in a dispute with the League of American Theatres and Producers. Cohen envisioned releasing a "history of the musicals of the 20th century" using numbers from the telecasts, but his heirs have yet to follow through.
What would become one of the first hit musicals of the next century, "The Full Monty," was lambasted by a Republican congressman for re-setting its story of economic hard times in Buffalo.
Mid-month saw the convening of The Second Annual Congress of Theatre (informally dubbed Act II), a replication of a highly contentious conference from 26 years earlier that brought together the commercial and not-for-profit worlds of the theatre in dialogue. Sponsored jointly by TCG and The League of American Theatres and Producers and held at Harvard, it was reportedly, as Sammy Cahn once wrote about love, "better the second time around."
SFX and the Nederlander Organization announced a real estate and marketing partnership that gave them overwhelming dominance over commercial theatrical houses in the Chicago Loop Theatre District, turning Chicago into a prime tryout town, with shows like "Mamma Mia," "Blast," "The Producers," Kathleen Turner's "Tallulah," and the new musical "The Rhythm Club" (subsequently cancelled when funds fell through), all slated to play there prior to landing on the Great White Way.
As the month turned over, so did the guard at Theatreworks/USA, when Artistic Director Jay Harnick and Managing Director Charles Hull retired after founding the organization nearly 40 years before. Their respective replacements, Barbara Pasternak and Ken Arthur, had to make do with a combined 30 years of experience with the organization when they took the reins.
Summer begat "The Winter's Tale" as the first of two Shakespearian offerings from the Public Theater in Central Park, featuring Keith David, Aunjanue Ellis, and Bronson Pinchot in main roles.
A David and Goliath scenario began to unfold in U.S. District Court when make-up artist Candace Carell sued The Shubert Organization, Cameron Mackintosh, and Andrew Lloyd Webber for copyright infringement over her designs for "Cats." (They were apparently not paying now and forever.)
August commenced with the destruction of a legendary Off-Off-Broadway Theatre space, Judson House, run by the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, which for over 50 years had been the performing home for talents as diverse as Maria Irene Fornes, Trisha Brown, Al Carmines, and Yoko Ono. The church sold the building, at 237 Thompson St., to New York University.
Angela Lansbury bowed out of her upcoming Broadway musical, "The Visit," which Terrence McNally, John Kander, and Fred Ebb tailored just for her from the classic Durrenmat play, sparking what would become a fruitless search for a star replacement. The show ultimately gave up its hold on the Broadway Theatre and is now eyeing a regional production at Chicago's Goodman Theater.
Michael Kaiser left London's Royal Opera to replace Lawrence Wilker as president at the Kennedy Center.
FringeNYC2000 brought an explosion of theatre (more than 170 offerings) to the Lower East Side for the second half of the month, while further uptown the theatrical season picked up the pace a little earlier than usual, with Rebecca Gilman's controversial "Spinning into Butter" at Lincoln Center; Bill C. Davis' latest exploration of the relationship between gays and the Catholic Church, "Avow," with Jane Powell, at the Promenade; David McCallum's turn as "Julius Caesar" at the Delacorte in Central Park; and Roundabout Theatre Company's triumphant production of the Kaufman & Hart classic, "The Man Who Came to Dinner." This last provided star Nathan Lane with great quantities of red meat and proved a delightful live broadcast for PBS on closing night.
Roundabout continued its roll by announcing the acquisition of the lease on the American Place Theatre from the city of New York, displacing the theatre company for which the facility is named. This gave Roundabout occupancy of four theatre spaces in the city, three of them within 12 midtown blocks in the heart of Times Square.
Jon Jory's replacement at the Actors Theatre of Louisville turned out to be Marc Masterson of City Theatre in Pittsburgh. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Anne Hamburger left her post as artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse after only a single season, opting instead for a more lucrative job with Disney, and former AD Des McAnuff stepped back into the breach as interim artistic director.
After award-winning director Michael Maggio of Chicago's Goodman Theater succumbed to lifelong health problems at the age of 49, the Jefferson Award for directing was renamed in his honor.
"Seussical: The Musical" began its troubled odyssey toward Broadway. Boston reviews were mixed, the costumer was fired at the start of previews (the set designer and director would soon follow, although their names remained on the posters), and rumors raged over the Internet, fundamentally altering the out-of-town tryout experience forever.
"Smokey Joe's Café" launched the Broadway Television Network with a pay-per-view cable broadcast of its closing performance, taped live at the Virginia Theatre. And Broadway On Broadway kicked off the official start of the 2000-01 theatre season with a Times Square concert of top Main Stem talent that, for the first time, was broadcast live on the local NBC affiliate. It was highlighted by Betty Buckley's rendition of "Memory" on the same day that "Cats" finally closed, as the longest-running musical in Broadway history.
Signature Theatre opened its season with Romulus Linney's "A Lesson Before Dying." In a departure for Signature, the current season will consist of one new play from each of the writers who have been treated to full seasons of their work in previous years.
"Gore Vidal's The Best Man" arrived on Broadway just in time to remind theatergoers that, when it comes to politics, plus ça change, plus c'est la mème chose. Vidal didn't have to change a single line.
The month ended with the news of a split between casting directors Julie Hughes and Barry Moss after a 22-year partnership. Hughes decided not to return to work after taking a leave of absence to recover from the death of her husband, Norman Rothstein. Hughes announced, "I'm trying to reinvent myself, but I'm not out of the business."
Several Off-Broadway not-for-profit theatres began the month with important staff changes. Theatre for a New Audience hired M. Edgar Rosenblum as its first full-time executive director to help cope with the imminent loss of their performing space, the American Place Theatre (being taken over by the Roundabout Theatre, per above), which they had been renting from American Place for the last four years. Second Stage hired actor Mark Linn-Baker to fill in for Artistic Director Carole Rothman during an eight-month sabbatical she planned to take in 2001. And Wiley Hausam, musical theatre maven for the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival, left his formal staff position there, but retained consultant status, triggering a flood of speculation that, in the wake of the twin failures on Broadway of "The Wild Party" and the revival of "On the Town," the Public was rethinking its commitment to musical theatre for the moment.
A stage musical adaptation of the Julie Andrews musical film "Thoroughly Modern Millie" opened to cheers at California's La Jolla Playhouse, but only after losing two acclaimed leading ladies (Kristen Chenoweth and Erin Dilly). In grand theatrical tradition, understudy Sutton Foster stepped in and drew high praise in Andrews' role. The Broadway theatre crunch makes a transfer this season unlikely, but look for "Millie" to arrive here in time for 2001-02.
October was the month of hits. On Broadway, Neil Simon's "The Dinner Party" opened to a very mixed press, but crowds turned out anyway and the play very quickly returned its investment, making it Simon's first commercial success since "Lost in Yonkers." Manhattan Theatre Club transferred "Proof" to the Walter Kerr Theatre, where it immediately prospered. And the musical of "The Full Monty" arrived from the Old Globe in San Diego, establishing itself as the show to beat for the Tony, with across-the-board raves and sell-out business. Off-Broadway, Alan Bates and Eileen Atkins had a success with Yasmina Reza's "The Unexpected Man," while Bill Irwin made a big splash in "Texts for Nothing," a stage adaptation of four prose pieces by Samuel Beckett. He not only starred in the solo show, he adapted and directed it as well.
SSDC won an arbitration over a $1 "theatre restoration charge" Jujamcyn was adding to the cost of all tickets. It must now be included in the total of gross weekly box office receipts, a total from which artist royalties are calculated. Jujamcyn will ultimately have to reimburse directors and choreographers, but avoided having to ante up any interest.
Gordon J. Davis, former New York City Parks Commissioner and longtime board member of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem, was named to replace Nathan Leventhal as president of Lincoln Center.
The New York Times announced that its planned new home at Eighth Ave. and West 40th St. might include a new Broadway theatre. Meanwhile, plans were announced in Boston by Mayor Thomas Menino that the city's first new theatres (two of them) would be built to house the Huntington Theater, to the tune of $13 million, $3 million of it coming from the city of Boston.
Legendary theatre producer Cy Feuer celebrated his 90th birthday with a star-studded, black tie gala benefiting SSD&C.
Producer Elizabeth Ireland McCann was announced as the replacement for Edgar Dobie as managing producer of the Tony Awards telecast. Newhouse Newspaper Syndicate reviewer Michael Sommers took over as president of the New York Drama Critics Circle. And composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa won the Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Foundation's annual Musical Theatre Award, netting him $25,000.
The Manhattan Theatre Club's transfer of "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" gave Charles Busch his first Broadway hit, the month after MTC opened "Proof." The red-hot theatre then fielded another critical success with the American premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's "Comic Potential," featuring a star-making performance by English actress Janie Dee. The next MTC show to transfer to Broadway (planned for February 2001) is "A Class Act," a musical based on the life and songs of "A Chorus Line" lyricist Ed Kleban, despite a mixed critical reception. And to top it all off, MTC announced it would acquire the derelict Biltmore Theatre as its new home, gaining a beachhead on the Great White Way as soon as it can be properly restored.
At practically the same time, in Chicago, the not-for-profit Goodman Theater moved into a renovated new home in the Chicago Loop Theatre District, dedicating it with a production of August Wilson's latest play, "King Hedley II," soon to be found on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre.
Cameron Mackintosh decreeed that "Les Miserables" would henceforth be 14 minutes shorter, thus avoiding a running time of over three hours, which incurs "golden time" costs from the unions. Over the years, the show had paid out more than $16 million in overtime costs.
Lily Tomlin had a repeat triumph with the revival of her one-woman show, "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," but the Broadway hit parade slowed down a bit, as two new, expensive musicals, "Jane Eyre" and "Seussical" both delayed by production problems, finally opened to largely poor notices. Both shows vowed to struggle on, and "Seussical" received a huge shot in the arm when talk show host Rosie O'Donnell announced that she would play the role of The Cat in the Hat for four weeks in Jan./Feb. of 2001 while star David Shiner visits his family in Bavaria. Wendy Wasserstein failed to please the critics with her latest Lincoln Center offering, "Old Money," but it didn't matter, as the play had long since sold out its limited run at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.
Off-Broadway, Harry Kondoleon had a posthumous hit with his last play, "Saved or Destroyed," directed by his friend and fellow playwright Craig Lucas at the Rattlestick Theatre. There is talk of a commercial transfer as the year ends. "Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Spoof Odyssey," the latest edition of that venerable show, opened to its usual friendly notices. And Second Stage revived Edward Albee's 1964 mystery play, "Tiny Alice," with Richard Thomas and Laila Robbins in the roles created by John Gielgud and Irene Worth. Nobody seemed to understand it any better over 35 years later, but they liked it a lot more.
A group of legit producers, including "Rent" landlords Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Sellers, announced plans to build a new Off-Broadway theatre complex on West 37th St. near 10th Ave. There will be a total of four theatres in the seven-story structure. Two larger theatres will seat 499 and 450; two smaller will have a capacity of 199 each. Demolition has already begun and the new complex could be up and running in the first half of 2002.
A one-night-only concert presentation of Marc Blitzstein's adaptation of the Brecht/Weill "The Threepenny Opera" lit up the Lucille Lortel Theatre on what would have been that remarkable lady's 100th birthday. A benefit for the Actors' Fund of America, it featured original (or replacement) cast members Charlotte Rae, Beatrice Arthur, William Duell, Jo Sullivan Loesser, and George S. Irving, joined by Donna McKechnie and Robert Cuccioli. Its groundbreaking original Off-Broadway run took place on that same stage 46 years ago, when it was known as the Theatre De Lys.
As the year 2000 draws to a close, the forecasts and predictions for 2001 are already piling up. But if the past year showed us anything, it's that the only thing one can properly expect is the unexpected.
It's time to move on.