By JASON ZINOMAN
something a little silly about an actor dying
onstage," Mark Harelik, the star of Amy
Freed's hit comedy "The Beard of Avon,"
said in a recent phone conversation. "It's
always kind of a send-up."
He should know. Mr. Harelik, who has won
favorable notices as the grandiose Edward
de Vere, Earl of Oxford, has a long résumé
of death scenes. He has died of old age in
"The Immigrant," of alcoholism and
a drug overdose in "Hank Williams: Lonesome
Highway," and of the plague in "The
Beard of Avon," at the New York Theater
Workshop. In a recent "Tartuffe,"
in which he played the title character, the
director asked him to die at the end even
though it's not in the text. "No actor
has died more," Ms. Freed said.
Dying onstage gives Mr. Harelik an opportunity
to chew scenery, which, he said, isn't to
every audience's taste. For example, there
was that time when he was dying of syphilis
in Howard Korder's "Hollow Lands."
As the spotlight hit him, covered in bleeding
scars, he began to speak his final words grandly;
a woman in the front row interrupted, "Give
me a break!"
Awaiting The King
It's one for the money, two for the show.
"All Shook Up," the inevitable Elvis Presley
musical, is heading for Broadway in spring 2005 with
all the elements of a blockbuster: a crowd-pleasing
(if critically dismissed) book writer, Joe DiPietro;
heavy-hitter producers, including Clear Channel Entertainment
and Miramax; and 20 beloved hits. With the John Lennon
musical currently called "The Lennon Project"
scheduled for the same season, the stage is set for
a Broadway showdown between two of the most influential
pop stars of the 20th century.
Commissioned by the Presley estate, the show, which
is to play at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theater
in Chester, Conn., in May, is part of an emerging
Broadway art form typified by shows like "Movin'
Out" and "Taboo" that draws on the
nostalgic appeal of old pop songs. Unlike many of
these musicals, "All Shook Up" is neither
a revue nor a bio-play. "Elvis is not a character,"
said Jonathan Pollard, one of the producers. "It's
an original musical comedy about how a magical jukebox
and a leather-jacketed stranger transform a loveless
With rave reviews for Donna Murphy in "Wonderful
Town," new shows ("Wicked," "The
Boy From Oz," "Golda's Balcony") maintaining
strong sales and a bona fide critics' darling ("Henry
IV"), Broadway is showing signs of shaking its
fall slump. "Henry" has extended its run
one week, to Jan. 18, and sold $740,000 worth of tickets
last weekend. "It was Shakespeare's biggest weekend
ever," said Bernard Gersten, executive producer
of Lincoln Center Theater, where it is playing.
While Broadway may be returning to health, Off Broadway
is day to day. "The Beard of Avon" and "The
Long Christmas Ride Home" are still selling out
in small theaters, inspiring chatter about transfers,
especially since so many Broadway theaters are suddenly
empty. But the most talked-about show these days may
be "Caroline, or Change," which opens on
Sunday but has already generated deafening buzz.
The situation is gloomier in the commercial sphere,
where a growing list of Off Broadway theaters —
the Variety Arts, the Union Square, the John Houseman
— are looking for tenants. The Century Center
for the Performing Arts will go dark after "Beckett/Albee"
closes on Jan. 4, but it at least has announced a
replacement: "Johnny Guitar," a musical
send-up of the 1954 Joan Crawford film, scheduled
to start previews on March 4.
"There's just no product," said Ben Sprecher,
who owns and manages the Variety Arts and the Promenade
and manages the Little Shubert. Sluggish sales are
one problem, but Mr. Sprecher also blames the trend
toward opening shows on Broadway when they belong
in more intimate houses, where stakes are lower and
"Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," which
closed after four weeks, would have fared better Off
Broadway, he said. "You can make more money on
Broadway," he said, "but what's the trade-off?
`Oldest Confederate Widow' closed after one day."
And after "Bobbi Boland" closed on Broadway
before it even opened, its producer, Joyce Johnson,
said, "The play simply does not work in a Broadway
So why did these plays go to Broadway? As with much
in the commercial theater today, it's all about stars.
"Many stars want to win a Tony," said the
agent Peter Franklin. "They also want a decent
paycheck, and they'll get those on Broadway."
`Town' Without Contract
By the time "Wonderful Town" opened last
Sunday, lines had been memorized, sets built and money
lined up. Everything was ready except one small detail:
the producers hadn't signed a contract for the rights
to the show. A week later the deal is still not final.
In most businesses, this situation might be cause
for alarm. But on Broadway, where handshake deals
are still typical business practice, it hardly raised
an eyebrow. "I've worked on shows which have
run for two years and closed and still don't have
a contract," said the veteran producer Emmanuel
Jeffrey Seller, a producer of "Rent," said,
"I've never worked on a show that didn't have
the rights, but we opened `Rent' without signing the
lease and ran for over a year without doing it."
On "Wonderful Town,' an unsigned written agreement
was reached in early October, but the terms of royalties
for road tours remain a sticking point, said Barry
Weissler, one of the producers. He has been negotiating
with representatives of Betty Comden, who wrote the
lyrics with Adolph Green, as well as the estates of
Green, the composer Leonard Bernstein and the book
writers Jerome Chodorov and Joseph Fields.
"It's a little annoying to everybody,"
said Peter Franklin, the agent for Ms. Comden and
the Green estate. "But it's just the vagaries
of doing business in the theater."