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March 23, 2011 - by Griffin Miller

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In case you’re wondering ‘what’s up?’ on Broadway this spring, there’s a familiar warning you may want to heed: You Snooze, You Lose. At the very least you run the risk of wandering the Great White Way in a discombobulated state, not unlike Alice’s initial reaction to the contemporary musical Wonderland, currently on display at the Marquis Theatre.

To cut to the chase, there’s a staggering -- possibly record-breaking -- number of surprises afoot, from Broadway debuts by major film and TV stars, to revamped shows, to unexpected cast replacements and closings. So get out your scorecards and pencils, theatre fans, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Of the season’s cornucopia of the unexpected, the biggest Pandora’s Box of theatrical “yikes!” is, of course, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the mondo musical that’s been filling and refilling the media feeding frenzy buffet for months. A costly -- to the tune of $65 million and counting -- collection of missteps, injuries, rewrites, and postponements, the lastest bit of info impacts audience participation big time: all performances from April 19 through May 11 are cancelled with previews resuming on May 12. The latest official opening date is now June 14.

The “hiatus” -- which eliminates Spider-Man from 2011 Tony contention -- will bring in a new creative team to reshape the show. As stated in the press release on the subject, “…director and co-book writer Julie Taymor will no longer continue in her day-to-day duties with the production.” Taking over the staging is Philip William McKinley (who directed The Boy From Oz), while tackling the book is Marvel Comics alum Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. (Unquestionably, his Sensational Spider-Man for Marvel had something to do with his recruitment. His other writing credits include HBO’s Big Love and It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman.)

A different sort of bombshell was dropped at the recently recast La Cage aux Folles. After a handful of previews and extensive media promotion, it was announced that Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show; Arrested Development) was experiencing complications from hip surgery and would be stepping down from the role of Georges (vacated in February by Kelsey Grammer). Fortunately, Broadway actor Christopher Sieber (Lord Farquaad in Shrek; Sir Dennis Gallahad in Spamalot) was able to take on the role within weeks of Tambor’s departure, ensuring that his significant other in the show -- Harvey Fierstein as Albin -- would have a dashing new “With You on My Arm” duet partner before sunset on the French Riviera. (P.S. A delicious blast from the past, Alyce Beasley, known for playing receptionist Agnes Dipesto on Moonlighting, plays Mme. Dindon/Mme. Renaud in the hit musical.)

Meanwhile, celebrity newcomers are turning in some of the season’s most memorable performances. Comedian/actor Jim Gaffigan and Kiefer Sutherland of 24 fame are having no problem keeping up with their veteran costars Brian Cox, Chris Noth and Jason Patric in the potent revival of That Championship Season. Sutherland’s focused portrayal of James is especially mesmerizing.

Also on Broadway’s newbie radar are Robin Williams in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and Chris Rock, who is starring alongside Bobby Cannavale and Annabella Sciorra in The Motherf**cker With the Hat.

And finally, in the catch-it-before-it-closes category, American Idiot, one of the most groundbreaking and electrifying shows in town, has posted a closing date of April 24. In the final analysis, with its Green Day music and edgy storyline, this rock musical should have had a shelf life far longer than its one year-plus. Personally, I’m checking it out again before it exits the St. James.


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