Spring Promises a Blossoming Second Half to Broadway Season

Can the second half of the Broadway season match an unusually busy fall? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" if a plethora of producers with plenty of projects have anything to say about it.

The first opening of 1998 is one of the most eagerly awaited in many years: Ragtime, premiering Jan. 18 at the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts, has a tremendous positive buzz surrounding it, thanks to hit productions in Toronto and Los Angeles and a concept CD. Based on E.L. Doctorow's novel of three families in early 20th century America, the show features a book by three-time Tony winner Terrence McNally and a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns (currently represented by the animated film "Anastasia" for which they have received two Golden Globe nominations). Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Peter Friedman, Marin Mazzie, Mark Jacoby, and Judy Kaye head the cast of 58.

Word has it that the Tony Awards will be reduced to a battle between this show and its neighbor across the street at the new Amsterdam, The Lion King.

While Ragtime has been basking in the glow of positive word

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of mouth, The Capeman is suffering from repeated blows of negative publicity. The firing of two directors, rumors of calling in play doctors, and protests for its depiction of Hispanics as violent have plagued the production since it began rehearsals. Postponing the opening date has added fuel to the fire.

But this musical based on the life of Salvador "Capeman" Agron, a Puerto Rican youth imprisoned in 1959 for a gang-related slaying, still has elements going for it. Paul Simon is making his Broadway debut as a composer, and his collaborator on the book and lyrics is Nobel Prize-winner Derek Walcott. A concept CD of the songs has garnered positive reviews.

Upbeat articles from the Times, Post, and News have been posted outside the Marquis where the show will open on Jan. 29. Also, its leads Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony, and Ednita Nazario are major stars in Hispanic music and might draw in audiences which do not usually attend Broadway.

Slow February; Bustling March

The Main Stem goes into semi-hibernation next month with only scattered activity. John Leguizamo presents his solo show Freak, subtitled a "Demi-Semi-Quasi-Pseudo-Autobiographical Work" at the Cort, opening Feb. 12.

March comes in like a lion with Art, the London/Paris hit by Yasmina Reza, adapted from the French by Christopher Hampton. Alfred Molina, Victor Garber, and Alan Alda play three friends whose relationship is forever changed when one of them purchases a modern painting. With a small cast of respected names, simple set demands, and a European pedigree, Art could be on exhibit for the long haul.

Art's West End edition is now on its third ensemble, so look for multiple "Grease"-style replacements to keep this show going. Hey, maybe Sean Connery, one of the producers, may even step on stage for a while. Who knows? Opens March 1 at the Royale.

The greeting card company Hallmark, long a sponsor of quality broadcast drama through its "Hallmark Hall of Fame" TV series, makes the transition from the tube to the stage with its co-production of The Sound of Music, opening at the Martin Beck on March 12.

Susan H. Schulman, whose restagings of Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along received critical praise, directs a cast which includes Rebecca Luker, Michael Siberry, Patti Cohenour, and Jan Maxwell.

Another musical revival, not quite as wholesome as Music, opens three days later. Sam Mendes' acclaimed London mounting of Cabaret will finally begin preview performances Feb. 13 with an opening on March 15. The company has been planning to bring over Mendes' staging for two years but couldn't find the proper venue for its cabaret-style setting. Club Expo, a disco and former legit Broadway theatre named the Henry Miller, provided the answer. Rob Marshall will be co-directing with Mendes.

Natasha Richardson, star of Roundabout's Anna Christie, will play another lady of loose morals, Sally Bowles. Alan Cumming, Ron Rifkin, Mary Louise Wilson, John Benjamin Hickey, Michele Pawk, and Denis O'Hare are also featured.

Meanwhile, in the Roundabout's Criterion Center Stage Right, Tony winners Blythe Danner and Edward Herrmann star in Terrence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea beginning performances Feb. 25, just after A View From the Bridge vacates the premises on Feb. 14. Sea's opening date is March 19.

Lincoln Center Theater (at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre) has announced it will follow up its production of Ivanov, Chekhov's farcical melodrama of sad Russians, with Ah, Wilderness, Eugene O'Neill's sunny comedy of happy Americans. Debra Monk and Craig T. Nelson will play the heads of the Miller clan. Opening: March 19.

April is Golden, Dark, and High

Traditionally, April is a packed month for Broadway openings as producers angle to premiere their product as close as possible to the Tony Award cut-off date which traditionally falls towards the end of the month. This year, there are fewer frenzied debuts scheduled since most of the shows have opened earlier in the season.

Leading off is David Henry Hwang's Golden Child. The drama is based on stories the author's grandmother told him about her girlhood in China in the 1920s. It had its world premiere last season at the Joseph Papp Public Theater under the direction of James Lapine (currently represented by the new Diary of Anne Frank) and won two Obie Awards. After some rewriting and recasting, and try-out performances way out of town in Singapore and San Francisco, the new production will open April 2 at the Longacre.

Wait Until Dark follows three days later on April 5 at a theatre to be announced after a Boston try-out. This 1966 thriller pits a blind woman against a ruthless gang of drug smugglers after a stash of heroine hidden in her apartment. Marisa Tomei is the sightless heroine while independent filmmaker/actor Quentin Tarantino ("Jackie Brown") makes his Broadway debut as Harry Roat, the leader of the thugs. Lee Remick and Robert Duvall starred in the original production while Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin matched wits in the 1967 screen edition. Leonard Foglia (Master Class) stages this new production.

The Herbal Bed by Peter Whelan, a hit in the West End, makes the jump across the Atlantic in mid-April, but an exact date and location for its landing have not yet been announced. The plot is derived from actual events which occurred in Stratford-on-Avon in 1613 when Susannah Hall, Shakespeare's eldest daughter, was accused of infidelity. (A related casting notice appears in this week's issue under Equity Stage.)

Another British play is being rushed into production to make it to Broadway in time for the Tonys. David Hare's The Judas Kiss will star Irish film hunk Liam Neeson as Oscar Wilde (whose story is also enacted Off-Broadway in Gross Indecency). The plan is to premiere at London's Almeida Theatre in February and then perform for a limited run on Broadway opening in April.

As usual, the season will close out with musicals. High Society, a stage version of the 1956 film which was in turn based on Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story opens April 23. A venue has not yet been announced, but the Richard Rodgers (vacant as of Jan. 3 when Side Show closes) seems the likeliest candidate. Melissa Errico (now in Major Barbara Off-Broadway), Daniel McDonald, Jere Shea, Randy Graff, Lisa Banes, Michael Goodwin, and John McMartin star. Arthur Kopit adapted the book. The score is composed of Cole Porter's songs for the film as well as other selections from the Porter canon, some featuring additional lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. Christopher Renshaw (Drama Desk winner for The King and I), who staged the musical for its premiere at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, repeats his directorial duties.

Christopher d'Amboise will be unable to stage the dances for Society (which he did in San Francisco) since he'll be busy re-choreographing the New York Shakespeare Festival (NYSF) revival of On the Town when it transfers to Broadway's St. James Theatre on April 26. (Lar Lubovitch is High Society's new dance master.)

When Town played in Central Park's Delacorte Theatre this summer, it received mixed reviews. Eliot Feld's dances took most of the flack. Feld voluntarily withdrew for the Broadway edition which will still be directed by NYSF producer George C. Wolfe.

The first announced show of the 1998-99 season is What the World Needs Now, a revue of Burt Bacharach-Hal David songs scheduled to open at the Roundabout June 2 after an engagement at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. (A related casting notice appears in this week's issue under Chorus Calls.)