American plays make up part of London's West End bill

June 27, 1993|By Michele Nevard | Michele Nevard,London Bureau

West End theaters expect 10.9 million visitors this year. At least 14 percent of those visitors will be Americans, according to a representative from the Society of West End Theaters.

Despite the recession, London's theaters are producing some exciting work -- new plays and old.

Arthur Miller's new play, "The Last Yankee," is in the West End at the Duke of York's Theatre. During its last 12 weeks at the Young Vic it played to more than 30,000 people.

The last Yankee is Leroy Hamilton, a New England carpenter whose wife Patricia has been on a variety of drugs for depression the past 15 years.

Set in a psychiatric hospital, the play explores the relationships between two women patients and their visiting husbands as they learn about each other and come to understand what they mean to each other and themselves.

Continuing the American theme are two musicals playing to packed houses.

Hot from Broadway, the winner of three Tony Awards, is "Crazy For You." This new Gershwin musical comedy incorporates 15 Gershwin standards, such as "Someone To Watch Over Me," and four recently rediscovered songs, "Tonight's the Night," "Could You Use Me?" "What Causes That?" and "Stiff Upper Lip."

Two blocks away, at the Prince of Wales Theatre, "City of Angels" is playing to excellent reviews. The Times said this "was a musical-comedy made in Heaven, the most brilliantly inventive London has seen for years." And The Guardian claimed the show "the wittiest musical in many seasons."

Set in a Chandleresque film noir world of the 1940s, it's a satire on the Hollywood dream factories. It was written by Cy Coleman and Larry Gelbart, a writer for "Tootsie" and "M*A*S*H."

Stine, played by Martin Smith, is turning his novel about his private-eye alter ego Stone (Roger Allam) into a film script while battling a dictatorial director.

Since "City of Angels" is a musical that appeals to the intellect more than the heart, it's not proving as popular as initially expected. However, the box office is doing well and there is no closing date in sight.

If musicals are your preference, then the West End currently has a choice of 13 with promises of some more.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-awaited "Sunset Boulevard," based on Billy Wilder's 1940s film, has run into a technical snafu that has postponed its opening until July 12.

According to Mr. Lloyd Webber, the production was two weeks behind schedule because newly installed hydraulic valves, necessary for moving scenery around on stage, were faulty. Despite the delay, however, the race for tickets is on.

At the National Theatre, Tom Stoppard's new play "Arcadia" has received a flood of brilliant reviews. Ostensibly a literary thriller set in a Derbyshire country house called Sidley Park, the play works on numerous levels. Moving between the early 19th century and the present, young academic Bernard Nightingale investigates a scandal "which may have taken place when Lord Byron stayed there 180 years earlier: if indeed it was Lord Byron, and if he did stay there."

Gardening, science, romanticism, literature and the trendy Chaos Theory all crop up in profusion.

This summer offers other excellent new plays, such as "The Gift of the Gorgon" by Peter Shaffer, and "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde, which is booking until July 24.

Those visiting the West End will find the choice is varied -- with prices ranging from $8.25 (for "Five Guys Named Moe") to $57.75 (for "Sunset Boulevard") -- and the standards extremely high.

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