PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 27-Nov. 2: The Tragedy of Hurricane Sandy
By Robert Simonson
Prior to this week, the name Sandy, to theatre types, meant the perky heroine of Grease. Or perhaps the dog in Annie (currently being revived on Broadway).
One storm-tossed city later, Sandy, or course, means something else altogether.
Erstwhile Hurricane Sandy, downgraded to a tropical storm — but still stupendously strong, the demotion notwithstanding — made landfall on the New Jersey coast on Monday, Oct. 29. It did not disappoint as tropical storm Irene had the year before. She lived up to her sobriquet Superstorm Sandy, and the result was tragic: at least 40 dead as a result of the storm in New York City alone. The storm surge knocked down houses. Rivers of water spilled down the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, Staten Island and lower Manhattan. She blew down enormous trees, often sending them crashing down on parked cars. She flooded subway stations and traffic tunnels. And she deprived the lower fourth of Manhattan of light, water and power.
Broadway, of course, shut down. Off-Broadway, too. There was no choice. The state government ordered all subway and bus service suspended beginning Sunday evening. Soon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was shutting down bridges and tunnels one by one. Most people who still wanted to see a show on Sunday night couldn't have even if they tried; the same went for the commuting artists and crew. On Monday, the storm had arrived in full force, and the theatre shutdown continued. By Tuesday, the city was reeling, citizens contending with too much water and too little power or means of transportation.
By Wednesday, Oct. 31, Broadway shows began to light the lights again, at matinee and evening time, even though much of mass transportation was still in limbo. The regular Broadway schedule was back in full force by Thursday, with all scheduled show playing.
For Off-Broadway, things weren't that easy. Most Off-Broadway theatre companies and houses are in downtown Manhattan, below 23rd Street, where Sandy struck hard. Some theatres sustained flooding; all lost their electricity. Since some companies' offices were in the theatres themselves, people couldn't report to work; rehearsals couldn't get underway. More than 20 productions were shut down cold, and remained so by the end of the week. It could be another week before they resume performances. Some many never reopen. As of this writing, the morning of Friday, Nov. 2, downtown is without electrity.
The financial toll of Sandy's wrath will be calculated in the days to come. No doubt it will be considerable. In the billions along the East Coast. But don't expect the theatre to shake off Sandy as they did Irene — that is, as an aberration. Climate change is here to stay. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, "We get a storm of the century every two years now." Likely calculated into future New York theatre will be things like flood insurance, generators and sandbags.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS announced Nov. 2 that a portion of proceeds currently being raised by Broadway, Off-Broadway, and national touring companies during the six-week fall fundraising efforts will be donated to three relief agencies committed to immediately helping victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Broadway managed to get on track again quickly enough to offer one opening. The latest revival of Henry James' "Washington Square" tale — known on the stage as The Heiress but Ruth and Augustus Goetz — was unveiled on Nov. 1, with Jessica Chastain, Dan Stevens, David Strathairn and Judith Ivey, directed by Moises Kaufman.
Reviews were mixed-to-positive, with critics focusing, as is perhaps only natural with this play, on Chastain's performance as Catherine Sloper, the unloved, young, 19th-century-New York woman who is treated unkindly by both father and suitor. Many dwelled on the process by which the lovely film star rendered herself homely. "Full credit goes to Chastain, who has buried herself in dullness to play one of theatre's more formidable proto-feminist roles," said the AP.
But others, including the New York Times — which mocked the production as a bit of "Masterpiece Theatre" — were under-impressed with the actress. "An underpowered Jessica Chastain, hampered by questionable directorial choices, dilutes the emotional impact of this nonetheless compelling melodrama," wrote the Hollywood Reporter. "This is juicy, high-toned melodrama, and for the most part, stylishly executed. It's possible that, as the run progresses, Chastain might find more secure footing, placing a bolder stamp on the central role to capture the spark that’s currently missing." (Audiences are loving it, though: gasping in all the right places.)
Others didn't mind being treated to a well-upholstered production at all. "Moises Kaufman's masterfully helmed production is everything you want from a Class A revival," observed Variety. "As is proper for a costume drama, the costumes are mouthwatering. The set is just as scrumptious, and the cast seems entirely comfortable speaking the language and thinking the thoughts of people from a bygone era." The Post added that, "the play itself takes care of the rest, carrying us along like the well-crafted yarn it is. They don’t write 'em like this anymore." While the Wall Street Journal echoed, "The Heiress is so fine a play that it is capable of making a strong impression even in a flawed production. That's what happens here."
There was movement for the stalled musical project Finding Neverland. Harvey Weinstein told the New York Times that he is hopeful that the new Scott Frankel-Michael Korie-Allan Knee musical will play the West End in 2013 prior to a Broadway arrival next season.
The $11 million musical is based on the Academy Award-nominated 2004 film of the same title. Rob Ashford directs and choreographs Finding Neverland, which premiered Sept. 22 at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. It ended its run there Oct. 18.
Broadway After the Storm
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