Thursday, May 30, 2024

Broadway Heads Into a Week from Hell as a Dozen Shows Open for Tony Awards Eligibility


Last night I attended a press preview for Alicia Keys’s lively Broadway musical, “Hell’s Kitchen.”

The Shubert Theater was packed except for two house seats just across the aisle. At the same time, my companion received an email confirming tickets for last night, for the new play, “Patriots.” She also had a confirmation for Saturday for the same play.

Where were the people from the empty seats, we wondered? I joked, probably at “Patriots” by mistake.

Starting this past Monday, and ending late next week, Broadway is in an annual period of chaos. More than a dozen new shows have opened or will, all to qualify for the Tony Awards. Broadway publicists are busy shoehorning Tony voters and press into theaters already mostly sold out to paying customers.

Working the schedule requires the mind of Gary Kasparov, it’s such a chess game. Last night, while we were at “Hell’s Kitchen,” a talky play called “Suffs” opened across the street. It received mixed reviews, but Hillary Clinton was there. Tonight, a very hot play called “Stereophonic” is opening that everyone is trying to see (maybe next week, maybe not).

Over the weekend, there are not one but two opening nights for Eddie Redmayne in “Cabaret.” The Alicia Keys musical is also opening on Saturday night, which will have a ton of celebs in the audience and fans singing along to this high-end jukebox show.

On Monday “Patriots” is opening at 2pm, and the Huey Lewis jukebox musical at 6pm. This is unfortunate timing as it is the beginning of Passover, which means a lot of people will be at seder tables and not in aisle seats. (Don’t worry, we’ll catch up!)

But come Tuesday, the game resumes. A play called “Mary Jane,” starring Rachel McAdams, is opening (but it has lukewarm buzz, so it can wait). Wednesday at 2pm is the first performance of “Illinoise,” a late entry musical transferring from the Park Avenue Armory. In this case, the buzz sounds like a chorus of cicadas, so everyone wants to see what’s going on.

But wait: “Uncle Vanya” is opening that night at Lincoln Center. Steve Carell stars in it. For best revival of a play “Vanya” will have to deal with the knockout production of “An Enemy of the People” with Jeremy Strong and Michael Imperioli. So there’s a lot of interest.

Are you exhausted? Have you had enough peanut M&Ms and diet Coke — total price in theaters $17 — for the week? (Because that’s what we call “dinner” on Broadway.) Thursday brings two more openings: “The Great Gatsby” musical and a play called “Mother Play” with Jessica Lange and Jim Parsons.

And these were all preceded by “The Outsiders” and “The Wiz” (very good reviews each), “Water for Elephants” (outstanding), the “Doubt” revival (very strong), “Appropriate” (a surprise hit with Sarah Paulson), ” “Tommy” (a hot pick), “Lempicka,” and “The Notebook.” Plus everyone wants to see “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Kimberly Akimbo,” and “Sweeney Todd” before they close.

Also, let’s not forget the perennials still running, like “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” “Book of Mormon,” “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “MJ,” “And Juliet,” and so on. There’s also that Neil Diamond musical that keeps posting closing notices but never closes. (They just donated $750,000 to the Parkinson’s foundation.) And somewhere out there, “Chicago” is still playing to decent houses.

And what about those indefatigable (“Can you do tonight at 7? Tomorrow at 8?”) publicists? They sound exhausted on the phone. They stand outside the theaters — no matter what the weather, and this season has been cold, gray, and rainy — happily greeting their guests with tickets. How do they do it, and keep it all straight? They must be reading Kasparov’s book!

And still, there’s always an article insisting Broadway is dead. If it is, it’s not only walking, but dancing and singing!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News