Looking for a good season on Broadway


NEW YORK -- If the average Broadway producer was walking around two months ago with total panic on his face, that expression has changed in recent weeks to one of nervous delight.

Nervous, because nothing on Broadway is sure. But the delight is real, and it can be felt these days all through New York's theater district as crowds line up to buy tickets for what promises to be the biggest Broadway season in years.

In the 11 busy weeks between Feb. 13 and the 1991-92 Tony Award deadline April 29, 21 plays and musicals are opening on Broadway -- compared with 28 shows in the entire 1990-91 season.

Many of those shows are arriving with glamour attached to them in the form of the largest contingent of Hollywood stars to perform on Broadway in recent memory. Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Glenn Close, Joan Collins, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, Gregory Hines, Judd Hirsch, Raul Julia, Jessica Lange, Al Pacino, Tony Randall and Lynn Redgrave all will have made their way to Broadway before the season ends.

And if star power cannot necessarily produce glowing reviews ++ (as the panned Joan Collins vehicle "Private Lives" is making clear), it can certainly attract audiences who ordinarily would not come to Broadway plays.

Other factors besides glitter are making hearts light on the Great White Way.

America's most important playwrights are coming back to Broadway this season. August Wilson, Neil Simon and John Guare all have plays opening in the next two months. Other prestigious productions, too, are attracting attention from theater folk -- or, as in the case of Brian Friel's Irish memory play "Dancing at Lughnasa," have been playing to packed houses since fall.

What's more, the just-opened musical "Crazy for You" is proving to be a huge success, and several others -- the Jessica Lange-Alec Baldwin production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," the much-anticipated revival of "Guys and Dolls" -- are expected to do as well.

If Broadway was inconsolable last fall with the quick flop of the big-budget musical "Nick and Nora," the first important HTC production of a then-barren season, that embarrassment has almost been forgotten now.

Memories can be short in the sight of box-office lines like those for "Crazy for You," which New York Times critic Frank Rich likened to the second coming. Since its opening Feb. 19, "Crazy for You" has become the most sought-after ticket in town.

Written by Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor"), with five songs from the 1930 George Gershwin-Ira Gershwin musical "Girl Crazy" and 13 more from other Gershwin shows, "Crazy for You" has no big-name stars. But its collaborators are major talents -- among them are director Mike Ockrent ("Me and My Girl") and choreographer Susan Stroman ("And the World Goes 'Round") -- and the show seems well on the way to charming everyone in town.

With its Gershwin standards, "Crazy for You" is not quite the all-new American musical for which theater aficionados have been longing. But success is still success even when it has been recycled.

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