The Goodbye Girl Gets Ready for Broadway

The delicate business of fine-tuning the Broadway-bound musical The Goodbye Girl is under way at the Shubert Theatre. Veteran producer Emanuel (“Manny”) Azenberg and the production’s entire creative team hunkered down the morning after the new musical premiered on December 9 to begin polishing the entertaining, albeit old-fashioned work, which is in remarkably good shape at this early juncture. With script by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamlisch, and brilliant lyrics by David Zippel, the $5-million-plus show, based on a 1977 film that Simon also wrote, is scheduled to debut in New York on March 4. Azenberg predicts that advance ticket sales for the New York premiere could reach close to $10 million by opening night. That figure may not match the $30-million-plus advance for the New York premiere of Miss Saigon, but it isn’t chicken feed; penny-pinching Broadway theatergoers, burned once too often, aren’t buying costly tickets the way they once did.

Shortly after the Chicago premiere, Azenberg maintained that he and his cohorts weren’t fazed by a surprisingly sharp slam from Tribune chief critic Richard Christiansen. Even when displeased with a production, the mild-mannered Christiansen often finds a way to put it kindly, but his Goodbye Girl notice was barely mitigated vitriol from start to finish, summing up the show as “a muddle.” Ironically, Azenberg and his coproducers decided to try out their new musical here rather than in Washington, D.C., hoping they would receive a more sympathetic assessment from Christiansen than from Washington Post drama critic Lloyd Rose. Rose panned the pre-Broadway tryout of Azenberg’s last production, Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play. Meanwhile Sun-Times drama critic Hedy Weiss warmed up to The Goodbye Girl, though she has often skewered Broadway material, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, that pushes the pure entertainment value too heavily. Go figure.

Critical opinion notwithstanding, The Goodbye Girl team appear to be approaching their revisions with a level head. Azenberg says, “We had a schedle of improvements set up before the notices.” A dull opening number, “I’m Outta Here,” was already cut by the end of last week. Azenberg and Simon are also taking a close look at the look the act-one finale, a hilarious music musical scene in which costar Martin Short is asked by a crazed stage director to play the Shakespearean role of Richard III in an outrageously gay fashion. Azenberg says he and his creative team worried long before the premiere that some audience members might find this bit of shtick offensive given how the gay community has evolved since the movie’s debut 16 years ago. But Azenberg said it was their intention to frame the Richard III number as a scene more focused on Short’s agonizing humiliation than on its gay-oriented comedy. Still, Azenberg says Simon is going into the scene to cut some of the humor that they don’t think is working.

Before The Goodbye Girl leaves Chicago, act two could lose two extraneous musical numbers, and Simon has written a new scene that better sets up the budding romantic relationship between Short and his costar Bernadette Peters, who plays his initially antagonistic apartment mate in New York. Azenberg did not rule out the possibility that one or two new musical numbers would also be added to the show before it departs for Broadway. But that would depend in large part on how quickly new music could be orchestrated, rehearsed, and staged.

Interplay’s Next Move

Interplay’s noble attempt to set up a thriving theater company in Pilsen may be coming to an end. Last week Interplay artistic director David Perkovich said the company is negotiating to take over a space in Pipers Alley, at the corner of Wells and North. After four and a half years a 1935 S. Halsted, Perkovich says he wants out of that location. “I think it [the location] is suicidal,” says Perkovich, who conceded his company has been barely scraping by. He said that though no one has been hurt and only one car has been broken into during more than four years of Interplay performances, too many theatergoers remain reluctant to venture into the area. Perkovich is drawing up cost estimates for the new space, which would seat around 90 people, up from the 60-seat capacity at the theater’s present address. If all goes according to plan, Perkovich would like to have the venue ready for the Chicago premiere of Shadowlands in late April. Perkovich also said the well-padded chairs familiar to Interplay’s audiences will move with the company.

Goodman Exports Wings and On the Open Road

The Goodman Theatre’s much-praised production of Wings, a badly flawed and at times painfully pretentious (though beautifully acted) musical based on Arthur Kopit’s play about a stroke victim, is on its way to New York, where it will alight at the late Joseph Papp’s financially strapped Public Theater in late February. The way things are shaping up, a bit of unfortunate history could be about to repeat itself. The last time Goodman left town with this type of noncommercial material, it went to the Kennedy Center in mid-1990 with Frank Galati’s dense and demanding She Always Said, Pablo. That production promptly closed, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Kennedy Center at a time when it was already in the red. And the less said the better about Steve Tesich’s On the Open Road, a truly hopeless script produced last spring at the Goodman. Artistic director Robert Falls, now on sabbatical, is preparing to open it on another Public Theater stage early next month.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.