Favorites and `Tallulah'

Theater: Mechanic's new season includes `Fosse,' `Ragtime' and Kathleen Turner's pre-Broadway one-woman show. Mechanic gets `Tallulah'

February 21, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

A bevy of musicals and the Broadway tryout of a new one-woman show about Tallulah Bankhead, starring Kathleen Turner, will highlight the 2000-2001 Mechanic Theatre season.

"What I'm really trying to do is get us back into pre-Broadway, back into the incubation process," said Michael J. Brand, executive director of the Mechanic.

With six shows, the season will have one less subscription offering than the current season, which opened with the unconventional "Tony n' Tina's Wedding," presented at Scarlett Place, where it is now in its fifth month (see below).

And, though the Mechanic has been working to increase the length of subscription engagements, only one of the new shows -- Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" -- will have a two-week run. Brand said crowded booking schedules made it impossible to secure longer runs of several of the new season's musicals, such as "Fosse" and "Ragtime."

At the same time, he said he is pleased with the steady growth in attendance. This season's shows have been playing to more than 80 percent capacity, and the November production of "Beauty and the Beast" drew 97 percent.

"Baltimore is definitely going to get its crown back as one of the major Broadway cities in the United States," Brand said. "It's just taking a little time for us to get tours to focus on what we're doing here, but we've had a lot of major successes."

Brand also announced a change in next season's performance schedule. A Sunday evening performance will replace the Wednesday matinee. The new Sunday schedule features performances at 1 p.m. and 6: 30 p.m. The change will allow the Mechanic to accommodate more patrons for the popular weekend performances, while eliminating the parking difficulties faced by weekday matinee audiences.

Here's the 2000-2001 lineup:

"Fosse," Sept. 19-24. Winner of the 1999 Tony Award for best musical, this anthology of dance numbers by the late director/choreographer Bob Fosse was conceived by Richard Maltby Jr., Chet Walker and Ann Reinking. The stylish revue features material ranging from such Fosse hits as "Cabaret" and "Chicago" to lesser-known gems from television specials.

"Tallulah," Nov. 7-12. Kathleen Turner, a 1977 graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, returns to Baltimore in this solo show about another sultry, deep-voiced actress. The Mechanic's first tryout in several seasons, it is expected to open on Broadway next spring. "Tallulah" was written for Turner by Sandra Ryan Heyward and is directed by television sitcom director Michael Lessac. Brand saw Turner perform several scenes from the show last month. "She's committed to making this thing work," he said. "She said, `This isn't a job for me, this has been a passion.' "

"Cinderella," Dec. 12-24. The stage version of the Wonderful World of Disney's lavish 1997 TV revival, this 1957 fairy tale musical is the only show Rodgers and Hammerstein created specifically for television. Although casting has not been finalized (the TV special starred Bernadette Peters, Whitney Houston and Brandy), Brand said some of the same creative team will be involved.

"Amadeus," Jan. 23-28, 2001. Peter Shaffer's examination of the gulf between mediocrity and genius focuses on Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri and his arch rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The first major revival of Shaffer's 1979 play, this production opened in London last year under Peter Hall's direction and is currently on Broadway. The revival has been reworked by Shaffer, who has said he feels the result is less melodramatic and has "a larger human dimension."

"Ragtime," March 27-April 1, 2001. One of the finest musicals of the 1990s, this stirring adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel focuses on three fictitious turn-of-the-century families -- WASP, black and Jewish immigrant -- who interact with historical figures. The show won 1998 Tony Awards for Terrence McNally's beautifully constructed book and Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' intricate, layered score.

A sixth production, probably a musical, will end the season and is expected to be announced next month.

Subscriptions to the six-show season go on sale at the end of April and range from $119 to $443.50. Current subscribers will receive renewal information by mail shortly. For more information, call 800-343-3103.

Tony's long engagement

And now news from "Tony n' Tina's Wedding." The audience-participation show, which began performances Sept. 21, has just surpassed the run of the previous production presented in Fells Point in 1990. "We hope this will pave the way for bringing more smaller, off-Broadway scale shows into alternative venues," says the Mechanic's Brand.

In other developments, there's a new Tony. Westminster-based Ray Ficca, originally cast in the role of the best man, has succeeded Michael Todaro, who has returned to his hometown of Minneapolis. All but two cast members are now area actors.

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