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Amid busy Broadway fall season, 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' closes quickly

NEW YORK — The abrupt closing Nov. 1 of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs after only nine performances has cast a brief, uneasy shadow over Broadway's fall season, ironically one of the busiest in years.

The revival's collapse has had a ripple effect, forcing the cancellation of a second Simon production, Broadway Bound, which was to have opened at the same theater (the Nederlander) in December and then run in repertory with Brighton Beach.

Yet its failure — the shortest run for a Simon play on Broadway — stands in contrast to the healthy box office activity of star-driven productions such as A Steady Rain, featuring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig; a revival of Hamlet, starring Jude Law; and God of Carnage, last season's best-play Tony winner, with James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis.

The two-character Rain has proved to be particularly potent at the box office, regularly grossing more than $1.2 million each week, more than most musicals. Carnage has maintained its high grosses, too, even after a six-week summer hiatus for its stars. Whether that momentum will be sustained when the show's new cast — Jimmy Smits, Christine Lahti, Annie Potts and Ken Stott — take over Nov. 17 is uncertain.

The revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, first seen on Broadway in 1983, did meager business in three weeks of previews, grossing less than $125,000 during the week before its Oct. 25 opening. Despite many good reviews, the show's receipts didn't increase as much as its producers hoped.

The biggest name in Brighton Beach was Laurie Metcalf, who was to have had the showiest role in Broadway Bound, the final chapter in Simon's lightly fictionalized stage autobiography.

Stars help, but they don't guarantee success. Last season, Jane Fonda, Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon and John Leguizamo all were in shows that didn't earn back their production costs. This season, David Mamet's Oleanna appears to be underperforming at the box office despite featuring Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman.

Broadway also is watching to see how the fall's two new musicals — Memphis and Fela! — do. Neither has stars. Nor does the recently opened revival of Finian's Rainbow, which gathered mostly good reviews.

David Richenthal, producer of Finian's Rainbow and the upcoming Miracle Worker, starring Abigail Breslin as Helen Keller, is optimistic. The new show opens in March at Circle in the Square Theatre, an in-the-round playhouse not used as frequently as more conventional theaters.

"It would be disingenuous to pretend 'Oh, we had a brilliant idea, let's do it in the round,' " Richenthal said. "But you can make a virtue out of necessity. Theaters are more booked this season than any time in my memory in the 20 years I've producing.

"Usually I'll go to a theater owner and they will tell you, 'I don't have a theater right now but wait a couple of months — something will open up,' " he said. "Instead, all three of the main theater owners (the Shubert Organization, the Nederlander Organization and Jujamcyn) said, 'No. We have backups for our backups for our backups.' "

Which most likely means they will be announcing a new show for the Nederlander, home of Brighton Beach Memoirs, any day now.

Amid busy Broadway fall season, 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' closes quickly 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 3:30am]
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