Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews
As predicted, the Broadway production of the musical Ragtime will open at the Prince Edward Theatre on 9th March. Inspired by E L Doctrow's novel, with book by Terrance McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynne Ahrens it recently won four Tony awards including Best Book and Score. Set in the melting pot of turn of the century New York, it interweaves the stories of a rich white family in New Rochelle, a poor Jewish immigrant and his daughter in the Lower East Side and a black middle class piano player and the mother of his child in Harlem. It is directed by Frank Galati, with musical staging by Graciela Daniele, and is produced by Livent.
Show Boat is proving too costly to run at the Prince Edward however, and will not recast when the current American cast complete their run in September. The gap will be filled by the production of West Side Story which opened at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and has been on the road for nearly a year. The legendary reworking of the story of Romeo and Juliet in the gang wars of 50's New York, has a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and was originally staged by Jerome Robbins. It will open on 6th October, and if successful will look to transfer when Ragtime arrives. The producer is Pola Jones.
The future of the Old Vic has been assured by a new charitable trust, whose establishment was encouraged by Culture secretary Chris Smith (a wonderful thing a guilty conscience). The trust, whose members include Stephen Daldry and Sally Green, managed to lodge a downpayment of £1.5m this week, against a price of £3.5m, and has 21 months to raise the remainder. It beat an American buyer, believed to have made an offer nearer the original asking price of £7.5m. Smith was also instrumental in persuading the Mirvishes to accept the lower offer, and he recently increased protection for the building by upgrading its listed status to Grade II*. The trust will be an owner, not a producer, but it intends to offer the building rent free to incoming high profile drama producers. The opening show under the new regime will be Peter Hall's production of Amadeus on 21st October presented by Bill Kenwright.
Meanwhile Kenwright has upped the casting coup stakes, by an agreement in principal for Madonna to star in Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, again directed by Peter Hall, at the Piccadilly Theatre next June. The deal is yet to be actually signed, but all parties are said to be happy with it. The play is set in familiar Williams territory - a steamy tale set on a plantation in the American deep south. It will be interesting to see if it proves the ultimate audience attractant, uniting two very different constituencies. Or if, as has happened in similar situations in the past, it falls down the crack in the middle, because the fans will be put off (or simply mystified) by the play, and serious theatregoers won't go and see a rock star.
Details of the Almeida Theatre season at the Albery Theatre are now confirmed. It will begin with new versions of two Racine plays in repertoire, directed by Jonathan Kent. Ted Hughes' translation of Phedre opens on 9th September to be joined by Robert David Macdonald's Brittanicus on 4th November, and they will run initially until 28th November. The cast for both plays will include David Bradley, Julian Glover, Barbra Jefford, Diana Rigg and Toby Stephens. David Hare's Plenty will open on 27th April, with Cate Blanchett in the lead, again directed by Jonathan Kent.
The troubled D'Oyly Carte Opera Company is to make a rare visit to London, bringing Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado to the Royal Festival Hall for a week from 31st August. The cast includes stalwarts Lynton Black, Jill Pert and Eric Roberts, directed by Fenton Gray and choreographed by Lisa Kent. It is a joint South Bank Centre/Raymond Gubbay presentation. Enthusiasts can find the D'Oyly Carte web site via our UK Dance, Opera and Orchestra section, and the South Bank Centre via UK London Theatres.
You have to hand it to the marketeers of Art. Their latest wheeze is to bring an American cast to London and send a British cast to Broadway. If it gets past the immigration authorities, George Wendt, David Dukes and Stacey Keach (what no Alan Alder?) will come to London for four months from 28th July. In return, in September three British actors will go to New York. There are also plans for the cast of Frasier to play on Broadway during their summer hiatus next year.
Richard Eyre's report on the Royal Opera House thankfully told the government exactly what it didn't want to hear - that even allowing for the previous bad management, it is woefully underfunded. The inaccessibility caused by high seat prices is largely due to insufficient subsidy. If the Opera House can start afresh on its return to Covent Garden, in management planning, working practices and wages (which are revealed to be generally higher than ENO at the Coliseum) it will deserve to be funded properly. Tony Blair lives by public opinion, and his hastily convened arts supporters meeting this week shows that he is at last concerned about the bad mouthing he has been receiving from arts practitioners. A further push will hopefully convince him to sanction more money, with the fig leaf of greater accessibility suggested by Richard Eyre - such as live relays around the country, rather than just to the Piazza - covering the retreat. Keep up the pressure.
And Finally . . . In case you didn't realise just how influential this column is, or how much of a ceWebrity I am, the latest stats reveal that among the people from sixty odd countries who visit us each month, we recently logged a hit from someone in the Vatican City - presumably God's surfer on earth. As Dame Edna would say "I've been accessed by the Pope!"