MUSICALS | In the final days of the 20th century, Broadway spent a significant amount of time looking backwards. The musical stage, in particular, continued to witness a flood of revivals, reinventions, retrospectives, and revues, while major new works like Parade, Ragtime, and Titanic situated their respective stories in the distant past. High Society repurposed the catalogue of Cole Porter; Play On! repurposed the catalogue of Duke Ellington; and Contact repurposed the catalogues of Van Morrison, Robert Palmer, Giacomo Puccini, and more to create an exciting new spin on the episodic dance drama. Swan Lake found choreographer Matthew Bourne reimagining a 19th century classic; Aida found Tim Rice and Elton John traveling to Ancient Egypt; and Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Civil War found Billboard chart topper Frank Wildhorn with three pop-infused period pieces running on Broadway simultaneously. Meanwhile, on October 26, 2000, just one month after Cats ended its record-breaking run, lyricist-composer David Yazbek, director Jack O’Brien, and choreographer Jerry Mitchell brought a fresh, contemporary breeze to the musical comedy stage with The Full Monty.
PLAYS | Despite such memorable new American plays as Dirty Blonde, Proof, Side Man, and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, the end of the 20th century was largely dominated by European imports. In addition to the six individual entries penned by prolific playwright David Hare, Broadway’s lengthy list of transatlantic transfers included Art, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Closer, Copenhagen, The Invention of Love, The Lonesome West, Stanley, and The Weir. (Some were seen in entirely new productions.) Revivals, too, made the popular journey overseas. And, in a fit of homegrown fun and laughter, crowd-pleasing comics Sandra Bernhard, John Leguizamo, Colin Quinn, and Jerry Seinfeld each planted their solo show on the Main Stem within the space of nine months.
In 1999, Tennessee Williams premiered a new play on Broadway sixteen years after his death. One of the first full-length works to bear the famed playwright’s nom de plume, Not About Nightingales was originally written in 1938 in response to actual events that had taken place that year at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison - specifically, a days-long hunger strike that resulted in the death of four inmates who were among the 25 prisoners placed by prison officials in 36-square-foot cells within a 600-square-foot steam chamber as punishment. Unfolding in a series of searing, cinematic episodes, each of which was branded with a distinct banner, the extraordinary early-career drama was rejected by the Group Theatre and laid dormant for nearly sixty years before being rediscovered by Vanessa Redgrave while doing research at the University of Texas. Not About Nightingales was presented onstage for the first time on February 27, 1998 in a thrilling coproduction between London’s National Theatre and Houston’s Alley Theatre, with direction by Trevor Nunn, designs by Richard Hoover, Karyl Newman, Chris Parry, and Christopher Shutt, and a cast led by James Black, Sherri Parker Lee, Finbar Lynch, and Corin Redgrave. It eventually transferred to Broadway on February 25, 1999. Separately and incidentally, Noël Coward received his own posthumous Broadway premiere that same year with Waiting in the Wings.