A VISITORS’GUIDE TO BROADWAY
Even if you aren’t a delegate to the Democratic Convention, New York City will be a nice place to visit this summer. For one thing, there’s plenty to see without using gasoline (public transit is relatively good), and for another, it’s an especially lively season on Broadway. Even the Times Square area is cleaner thanks to an improved supporting performance by the Sanitation Department and the Vice Squad. Herewith some general advice folio wed by show-by-show guidance.
Keep in mind that the crush is worst and the pickings slimmest for weekend tickets, so widen your possibilities to weekdays, especially for the hottest shows (currently Barnum, Sugar Babies and Annie). Oddly, despite complaints about high prices, the scarcest seats are always the most expensive ones—the top is $27.50 for Dancin’ on weekends. Smart theatergoers won’t worry about status and will take balcony seats, where the view is fine—Broadway theaters tend to be small. Matinees are cheaper, of course, but some name stars play only evenings. (You are entitled to a refund if an understudy comes on at the last minute.) For the biggest hits, it’s advisable to get tickets in advance from computer ticket services or by mail—addresses are printed in current New York newspapers or such magazines as New York. Remember, SRO hits aren’t necessarily the best values. The Times Square Ticket Center (called TKTS) at 47th Street and Broadway sells tickets on the day of the performance at half price.
The 1979-80 season hasn’t reaped a bountiful harvest of new musicals, but among the best is Evita, with the all-sung (and sometimes danced) story of Argentina’s Eva Perón set against a fabulous Hal Prince staging. Dear old pals Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney (surrounded by chorines, below right) do squeaky-clean burlesque sketches and adorable production numbers in Sugar Babies. Acrobatic Englishman Jim Dale is dazzling in Barnum. More unorthodox Is A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. Half of this intimate show is a song-and-dance tribute to old movies. After intermission comes a fanciful version of Marx Brothers comedy. There are three new songs by Jerry (Hello, Dolly) Herman.
The year’s big trend is musical revivals. Those who never saw the great great shows can catch them in full-scale reproductions; those who loved them before can love them again. Playing through the summer are West Side Story, Peter Pan (with marvelous Sandy Duncan) and a revival of Oklahoma! Arriving during the sticky weather are The Music Man with Dick Van Dyke and Camelot starring Richard Burton (below left) in the role he created—can you believe it?—20 years ago.
There are also the old standbys like the trail-blazing A Chorus Line, Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ and the corny if irresistible Annie. The ambitious Sweeney Todd—full of Stephen Sondheim’s idiosyncratic songs—is there for the more demanding (careful, it’s bloody), while for the tired businessman there’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Still cozy, nostalgic and perfectly in period (’20s and ’30s) is the prizewinning tribute to Fats Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’. Finally, among the commercial favorites is They’re Playing Our Song. Author Neil Simon and composer Marvin Hamlisch can do better, but theatergoers aren’t complaining; Tony Roberts and Stockard Channing now star.
The choice among straight plays is smaller. Best are The Elephant Man and Talley’s Folly, it’s hard to imagine being unmoved by either. The Elephant Man is a true story about a deformed man in Victorian England who, under loving care, becomes a Christlike symbol of the nonconformist artist. Talley’s Folly is a waltz for the heartlands and urban America. It is an unabashed romance between two loners, she an Ozark aristocrat and he a Jewish accountant from St. Louis. Note that star Judd Hirsch leaves the cast June 15 to begin shooting TV’s Taxi. Similarly, in Bent, the wrenching work about homosexuals in a Nazi concentration camp, Richard Gere will be replaced June 2 by Michael York.
Other notable plays are a solid courtroom drama, Nuts, and the instructive, touching Children of a Lesser God, which deals with the deaf. Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, though not up to his accustomed standards, is a straightforward introduction to his special chilling world. (Blythe Danner, alas, is long gone from the romantic triangle. Roy Scheider and Raul Julia remain.) If you’re turned on by thrillers, Deathtrap has the market cornered. You can walk through the holes in the plot, but for two years audiences have enjoyed the stroll.
What Broadway is short on is comedies. Neil Simon’s annual hit is I Ought to Be in Pictures, with Ron Leibman; it is heartfelt as well as funny. But a surprise success is a revival of Paul Osborn’s 40-year-old flop, Morning’s at Seven. Many familiar Hollywood faces are in it, including Teresa Wright, Gary Merrill and Maureen O’Sullivan (Johnny Weissmuller’s old Jane and Mia Farrow’s mom). The spirit is strictly Saturday Evening Post.
The more adventurous—and thrifty—might investigate off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway, where stars are fewer but the thrill of discovery greater and neighborhoods more interesting. Worth leaving the midtown mainstream for are One Mo’ Time, a New Orleans jazz musical; Mecca, an English play about East meeting West in Morocco, and Scrambled Feet, a revue spoofing the theater itself.