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HOLIDAY ROUNDUP…AND THINGS TO COME

To say I’m relieved the strike by Broadway stagehands has been resolved would be a gross understatement. For almost three weeks, I watched a lot of people on both sides of the issue strut and preen and talk too much and do their very best to antagonize each other, and for the most part, none of them seemed to give a hoot in Hell about the residual effects a strike like this would have on the people like me. No, I’m not trying to personalize the issue:actually, there are quite a few people “like me”-people who spend their off-time,their days off, AT THE THEATER. I look forward to my Sundays.

On Sunday, you can squeeze in two performances, sometimes three, if you know how to do it right.Of sure, I had off-Broadway as my consolation, but here’s what I missed. I didn’t get to attend the 10th anniversary performance of “The Lion King”(but, oh my, what a party they threw instead). I didn’t get to see “August:Osage County” the same day as I would have seen “Lion King”.I didn’t get to see Mark Twain’s “Is He Dead?” before it officially opens. I didn’t get to see “The Seafarer” before it officially opens. And I won’t see “The Little Mermaid” until the second week of January now.

Thankfully, the two sides finally got their acts together, stopped talking to the media long enough to talk to each other, and resolved this thing. But, sadly, I’ve lost a lot of good will and respect for both sides. Oh sure, I’ll get to all the above-mentioned shows eventually. But I keep thinking that all this could have been avoided, and, like a lot of die hard hockey fans a few seasons back, the bitterness now that it’s over is going to linger awhile. Because you see, both sides forgot about their bread and butter-the audience. We took a backseat while everybody strained to top each other with their “poor me” routines. And this kind of horse puckey just doesn’t quite wash during a holiday season. So, hey yeah, welcome back, Broadway. Just don’t do it again, ya hear?

One of the unaffected productions during the strike was the gorgeous production of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” at The Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. It runs through Jan. 6th, and it is a ravishing physical mounting of one of the Bard’s most difficult but intriguing plays. There are so many plotlines it would be impossible to adequately describe in the space I’m allotted here, but suffice to say “Cymbeline” borrows heavily from almost the plays in the canon. Mismatched lovers, cross-dressing royalty, beheadings,the dead brought back to life; you name it, it’s here. The actors are a marvelous bunch, but specific kudos should be bestowed upon Martha Plimpton, Michael Cerveris, Jonathan Cake, John Cullum, and my personal favorite, John Pankow. Do yourself a favor and go see this one, especially if you’re not familiar with the work. The whole shebang is a lovely surprise.

Off Broadway, there’s the William Finn revue, “Make Me A Song”, which gives you a collection of funny, thoughtful, absurd, and heartbreaking songs by one of my favorite composers. The cast is primarily unknown, but hopefully not for long, they are superb, each and every one. If you liked “Spelling Bee”, you’ll love this. If you never saw anything by Mr. Finn before, this should make you a fan. At CSC on 13th Street there’s a teeny tiny Shakespeare production that’s also worth your time and its cast is also superb. “Richard III” is seldom played as close to the funnybone as this production is, but the humor is mined by a masterful cast led by Michael Cumpsty and Roberta Maxwell. And a new play called “The Brothers Size” at The Public Theatre should also be experienced while it lasts-it’s a riveting theatre piece with three wonderful actors on a bare stage. Well worth your time.

There’s lots to look forward to in 2008 as well. Nathan Lane will be returning to the stage in a new play by David Mamet called “November”. The play “November” starts previews late in December and officially opens in early January. It will probably be around for the other nine months as well, but you can March to the box office now.(I know, too cute). Also in January, a stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” will be coming to The American Airlines Theatre. The play has already received acclaim in London and Boston, and the cast in NYC will be the same as Boston. It’s a Roundabout Theatre production, and they will also be producing a much-anticipated revival of “Sunday In The Park With George” at Studio 54 come February. The afore-mentioned Michael Cumpsty will be one of the production’s stars. A new musical, A Catered Affair” starring Harvey Fierstein, Faith Prince, and Tom Wopat is on its way, after a triumphant run in San Diego. Also on its way from the same city, a new musical based on the John Waters film “Cry Baby”, which got rave reviews there late last month.

All in all, there’s a lot of wonderful product coming your way in the next few months, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing plenty more as they get closer. In the meantime, Happy Holidays and a great and prosperous New Year!