Thursday, May 22, 2008

Travel plans

Just as exciting as anticipating what's coming to Broadway next season is seeing which shows are going out on tour. And there are several bits of news this week that make me a very happy theatergoer.

First, Curtains, which, I'm sad to say, ends its Broadway run at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on June 29, will hit the road beginning in the fall of 2009.

And second, Gavin Lee, who created the role of Bert the chimneysweep in the London and Broadway production of Mary Poppins, will join his Broadway costar Ashley Brown on the musical's national tour, which begins March 11, 2009, at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Stops in Cleveland, St. Louis and Los Angeles also have been announced. It's not an everyday occurrence for the stars of a Broadway show to take it on tour, so this is great news.

Also on the touring front, the creative team behind the rock 'n' roll musical Passing Strange is considering taking their act on the road. I liked Passing Strange a great deal. It's really thought-provoking and the music has stayed with me. But I'm not sure how the story, about a young man's journey of self-discovery that takes him from Los Angeles to Amsterdam to Berlin, would play nationwide in theatres that can be double or triple the size of a Broadway house. There's not much in the way of a set, and in some ways it's kind of an intimate show.

Here's what Stew, who narrates the semiautobiographical story, had to say recently: "I personally spent a lot of my life touring, and I would love to take this play to anywhere and everywhere. That would be a dream. I don't know how it will all work contractually, but personally, I would love to do Passing Strange in all kinds of places. I would love it."

I saw Mary Poppins on Broadway last summer. While I liked the show and definitely recommend it, I thought it was a little long at nearly 3 hours and it didn't engage me emotionally as much as some other musicals. But I really enjoyed Matthew Bourne's choreography on the big musical numbers, and the many magical elements. Lee's performance was definitely a highlight. He is so charming and brings a great deal of warmth and humor to the role. I hope Disney will be able to include some of the magical touches on tour.

The Curtains tour will be produced by, among others, Atlanta's Theater of the Stars. I'm not at all familiar with Theater of the Stars, but apparently it brings Broadway shows to the city's fabulous Fox Theatre. (Fabulous doesn't actually seem to be part of its official name, but that's almost always how I see it mentioned). Since 1953, TOTS has produced or presented more than 700 productions around the world.

I've read some chatter on Broadway message boards speculating about how Curtains would do without David Hyde Pierce in the role of Boston police Lt. Frank Cioffi. While I absolutely adore the gracious and talented Mr. Hyde Pierce and I think he's wonderful in the role, I think it can be a popular show with someone else playing the part.

Sometimes, an actor gets so identified with a role it's hard to think of anyone else stepping into his or her shoes. I missed The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway, so I didn't get to see Bob Martin, who created the role of its main character, the musical-theatre loving Man in Chair. But I loved The Drowsy Chaperone on tour, and its Man in Chair, Jonathan Crombie, was terrific. And after all, most Broadway musicals tour with actors who aren't household names.

While Curtains doesn't have the recognition of a Wicked or Hairspray, hopefully it'll benefit from some good word of mouth. Plus, one thing I've noticed from going to see shows in Boston and Providence is that there's a large, loyal group of people who can't get to New York, but really want to see Broadway shows. I saw both Wicked and Hairspray on tour and they're two of my favorites.

And I think that Curtains, the final musical from the legendary team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, is a real crowd-pleaser. It's got memorable characters, lots of humor, big song-and-dance numbers and a backstage murder mystery plot. I love listening to the Broadway cast recording - it really gives you a good sense of what makes the show so entertaining.

Since Curtains unfolds backstage at Boston's Colonial Theatre, during the pre-Broadway tryout of a new musical, it seems like a natural for the national tour to kick off there. While no cities have been announced yet, I'm assuming that with an Atlanta-based producer, the tour will start in Atlanta. Still, I'll keep my fingers crossed.


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