Let’s face it, 2003 was indeed an annus horribilis for any number of people in the Broadway environs -- think “Urban Cowboy,” Jasmine Guy at the Manhattan Theatre Club, Neil Simon on a tear against Mary Tyler Moore at the MTC, think Ned Beatty versus his co-stars Jason Patric and Ashley Judd at the Music Box, think Ellen Burstyn’s opening and closing the same night at the Longacre, Barry Manilow’s new musical being scratched during rehearsals, Farrah Fawcett’s play getting to the preview stage at the Cort but then canceled before opening night, and think of “the show must not go on” decision that quickly ended the “Singular Sensations” series at the Village Theatre that had such a promising start with Carol Channing as the first headliner.
That barely scratches the surface; the list of nightmares goes on, right down to the fact that they kept the “Dance of the Vampires” artwork on the marquee of the Minskoff all year long, a constant reminder of how vapid “Vampires” had been; mercifully, the show itself closed early in the year and -- finally -- in December, the marquee had been changed to herald the Minskoff’s next tenant, “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Alfred Molina.
Stars lit up the Great White Way
But if the year had its flops, feuds and foibles, it also had its compensations, starting with five genuine stars lighting up the street, each of them possessing the kind of personal kilowat power that once made Broadway legendary, back in the era when Merman and Channing ruled and a genuine matinee idol occasionally blossomed.
It started in 2003 with Bernadette Peters in “Gypsy,” some liking her take on the role made famous by Ethel Merman, others less enthused, but the box office receipts proving that the combination of B.P.’s personal appeal and those sensational Sondheim-Styne songs was a potent lure.
Then came Antonio Banderas, absolutely wonderful onstage in “Nine” but causing even more excitement each night when he and wife Melanie Griffith exited the Eugene O’Neill stage door.
Soon after came Hugh Jackman breathing such enormous life and vitality into “The Boy From Oz” that he has become Broadway’s man of the year, bar none. He’s also proven to be a big box office winner: Thanks to him, “Oz” continues to ring up new $$$ records at the Imperial. (So essential is Jackman to “Oz,” the producers have decided that rather than send in a standby or briefly bring in a replacement, they’ll cancel all shows during the time when Hugh J. takes a brief vacation in February.)
2003 treatsThe other winners: Kristen Chenoweth rising to almost Judy Holliday heights as the daffy and marble-headed Good Witch in “Wicked” and Donna Murphy’s bedazzling musical comedy turn in “Wonderful Town.” Broadway watching doesn’t get better than this.
Other treats of the year: Marian Seldes in “Beckett/Albee,” Baz Luhrmann’s magnificent “La Boheme,” “The Play What I Wrote” at the Cort with its zany “Hellzapoppin”’ brand humor and surprise guest stars; and, one of the best times I had in a theater in the past 12 months, a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” delivered by a superb minimal cast at the New Victory.
On Jan. 4, the town says goodbye, after nearly six years and 2,378 performances, to Sam Mendes’ revival of “Cabaret” at Studio 54 (for the record, the original 1966 production ran for half that length, 1,165 performances). Closing the same day: this year’s Tony Award-winning “Take Me Out” (356 performances and 27 previews) at the Walter Kerr. In the meantime, I wish one and all a happy, happy new year.