MUSICALS | Though the mid-1980s continued to be dominated by big budget British imports like Les Misérables and Starlight Express, both of which opened on Broadway in the same week, one of the most surprising and influential productions of the period was Claudio Segovia and Héctor Orezzoli’s Tango Argentino, an unusually theatrical evening of dance that essayed 100 years of tango history. Following a sold-out engagement at New York City Center, the international sensation transfixed audiences at the Mark Hellinger Theatre for more than five months and helped to ignite a contemporaneous Spanish and Latin American dance craze that eventually brought to Broadway the likes of Flamenco Puro (1986), Tango Pasion (1993), and the Graciela Daniele dance dramas Dangerous Games (1989) and Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1995). Elsewhere, in the mid-1980s, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim joined forces for Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods; Grind, Rags, Roza, and Smile led a lengthy list of high profile flops; Shirley Bassey, Barbara Cook, and Patti LaBelle led a similarly lengthy list of special events; and, on September 29, 1983, A Chorus Line was christened the longest running musical in Broadway history.
PLAYS | In addition to its own share of European products such as Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, and Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, the dramatic stage witnessed a handful of major new American works in the mid-1980s. Among the most prominent were Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, August Wilson’s Fences, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and David Rabe’s Hurlyburly. Some of the biggest theatrical fireworks, however, were generated by an eclectic roster of revivals, including Death of a Salesman, Heartbreak House, and The House of Blue Leaves, a Lincoln Center Theatre production that marked the auspicious directorial debut of Jerry Zaks.
In 1987, Starlight Express brought to Broadway a high-speed train fantasy with an elaborate scenic design by John Napier and a pop score by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sporting a price tag of over eight million dollars, the original production was famously performed on roller skates by the likes of Ken Ard, Jane Krakowski, and Andrea McArdle. “Whether you love it or not, it’s different,” producer Martin Starger professed. “It’s not to be confused with any other piece of entertainment.” Roller skates themselves, however, were not new to the New York stage. The Two Nelsons, for instance, appeared on wheels in the Hippodrome spectacle Everything in 1918; Rose Irene Kress, Steele and Winslow, and Reynolds and Donegan each performed roller skating acts in “big time” vaudeville in the 1920s; and, in 1942, Harold Steinman presented The Roller Skating Vanities, a musical extravaganza in two acts that played Madison Square Garden and several other top arenas around the country.