Seven Broadway Plays to Open in December

NEW YORK (AP) — Murderous passion in ancient Greece with the ultimate high-strung wife and mother. Singing vampires in exotic Lower Belabartokovich. A fierce feud between two literary lionesses. Don Quixote tilting again at windmills.

All this, and Paul Newman, too.

Broadway will be blooming in December, with seven major productions scheduled to open before Christmas, making the month feel more like spring, when the Tony Award deadline usually produces a spate of shows trying to nab nominations.

And the December rush doesn't include the prominent off-Broadway attractions — featuring such stars as Danny Aiello, Sigourney Weaver and Tommy Tune — that also will arrive during the next three weeks.

"I think it would be a little too soon to declare a trend," says Jed Bernstein, head of the League of American Theatres and Producers. "Shows open when they are ready to open. That said, it is certainly true this year that there are more shows than normal opening in early December."

Usually by Thanksgiving, Broadway openings are pretty well over until after the first of the year, with newly arrived shows aggressively selling for the potent holiday week between Christmas and New Year's and bracing for the downturn in business in January and February.

Not so this year. The logjam began after "Dance of the Vampires" canceled its Nov. 21 opening because of an illness in director John Rando's family and pushed the musical into December. By then, "Our Town" had moved into the mix, followed by "Medea."

The $12 million "Vampires," which marks Michael Crawford's first visit to Broadway since "The Phantom of the Opera" nearly 15 years ago, now opens Dec. 9. The show, based on Roman Polanski's campy film, "The Fearless Vampire Killers," has been doing hefty business during its extended seven weeks of previews.

The revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," starring Paul Newman as the Stage Manager, has been an even more potent attraction. The limited engagement, running through Jan. 26, still has a few seats available, but already has recouped its $1.5 million production costs. Now in previews, it opens Dec. 4.

The next night finds Brian Stokes Mitchell opening in a revival of "Man of La Mancha." Mitchell portrays the idealistic Don Quixote and Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio is his beloved Dulcinea.

"We always had to open in December because of our commitment to an out-of-town engagement," said David Stone, one of the producers of "Man of La Mancha."

Several other shows did the same, including "La Boheme," trying out in San Francisco, and "Imaginary Friends" in San Diego.

No one is certain how the heavy influx of shows will play out.

"Some people say that fighting for media space with the movies, which always open a lot of films between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is a mistake," Bernstein said. "Others think you have the excitement of the holiday season when people are focused on going out and consuming entertainment. So maybe it's the perfect time to be in front of the public."

Each of the seven newcomers could be distinct enough to draw audiences.

"What's interesting about this December is that even though there are seven openings, they are all over the place in terms of subject matter," said Stone.

Baz Luhrmann's "La Boheme" opens Dec. 8. The $6.5 million version of Puccini's opera already has generated buzz, particularly among fans of Luhrmann's movie, "Moulin Rouge."

"Medea" grabbed great reviews in a brief engagement last month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and was promptly snapped up for Broadway. The Greek revenge tragedy, with Fiona Shaw in the title role, begins a limited engagement Dec. 10, closing Feb. 22.

Swoosie Kurtz and Cherry Jones, playing Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, open in "Imaginary Friends," Nora Ephron's account of their feud and subsequent lawsuit. The curtain goes up Dec. 12.

Finally, "Dinner at Eight," a 1932 play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, arrives only six days before Christmas

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