Theatre in New York in 2007

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Culturally speaking, New York is a closer relation to London than it is to the rest of America. If you doubt me, just look at the 2007 theatre season. The cross-pollination between Broadway and the West End, between subsidised companies in Britain and their non-profit counterparts in Manhattan is so frequent that a tunnel should be built under the Atlantic just to facilitate the exchanges. I don’t decry this state of affairs; too much of the back-and-forth whets my appetite – and I’m not alone.

For example, David Hare’s just-opened new play, The Vertical Hour, may not have been a critical smash here, but it is selling well; similar success is likely to greet Joan Didion’s autobiographical The Year of Magical Thinking, which Hare is directing on Broadway (performances begin March 6) with Vanessa Redgrave as the solo star.

That other New York-beloved
London-based playwright, Tom Stoppard, is enjoying full houses for the first two parts of his Russian thinkers trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, which is earning stronger notices stateside than it did at the National Theatre four years ago. Salvage, the epic’s third instalment, opens on February 15, and barely will Utopia’s run be over, it seems, before Stoppard’s next play, Rock ’n’ Roll, rolls into New York with its London star, Rufus Sewell (no dates yet).

Another National Theatre production, Helen Edmundson’s Coram Boy, about a pair of orphans in 18th-century England, comes to Broadway in April. Also arriving in the spring will be the Donmar Warehouse production of Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, which brings back the post-Watergate era, with Frank Langella as the disgraced American president; and the Old Vic staging of O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, starring Kevin Spacey. I found the Spacey-centred production of another O’Neill – The Iceman Cometh, which had a Broadway run in 1999 – to be woefully misconceived, but audiences flocked to that marathon-length evening and are likely to do so again with Moon.

Broadway in the new year is again proving to be typically short of new plays, but a handful of musicals show promise. LoveMusik, which begins at the Biltmore on April 12, covers the relationship between the composer Kurt Weill and his wife Lotte Lenya, and features not only Weill’s incomparable music but also Donna Murphy and Michael Cerveris starring as the married couple.

A more traditional backstage musical, Curtains, arrives on Broadway on February 27 from the Ahmanson, in Los Angeles, where I saw it this past summer. While there is something more than a little creaky about this extravaganza starring David Hyde Pierce from TV’s Frasier, it contains some genuine wit and a couple of sensational production numbers.

In the razzle-dazzle department, however, no one can compete with Jerry Mitchell, choreographer of The Full Monty and Hairspray. Mitchell gets his first big-league directing assignment with the musical version of Legally Blonde, starting up at Broadway’s Palace on April 3. Mitchell has a rare burlesque-era gift of making sex seem naughty, and undoubtedly he will bring some of that facility to bear on this silly story, which in the movie starred Reese Witherspoon.

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