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Broadway Bounces Back 

PT on the Great White Way

We were heading back to the subway from the Marquis Theatre after attending the matinee performance of Thoroughly Modern Millie on December 31. Suddenly I froze in my tracks at the corner of Broadway and 47th Street as the thought hit me. "My reading glasses!" I blurted out, patting my empty shirt pocket.Always on the alert, my wife shot back, "They're not going to let you go back to the theater!"

She was right. After soldering down all the manhole covers and setting up phalanxes of guardrails surrounding -- and partitioning -- Times Square, police weren't allowing the crowds to stream in for the big neon New Year's Eve extravaganza. Not until the area was totally secured.

Apparently, some Pakistani hood up in Canada had told authorities that five terrorists had penetrated US border control. So the whole law enforcement establishment, just like our nation's economy, was spooked yet again by the ripples of 9/11.

But on the Great White Way, business was booming over the holidays, unfazed by Al-Qowards. Box office receipts for Christmas week topped $21.3 million, setting an all-time record and beating the 2001 Yule log by more than 15 percent.

Of course, you just can't run up to the theater and grab a seat for Hairspray and La Boheme, the hottest smash hits. Nor can you expect to see Paul Newman's return to Broadway in Our Town unless you've already latched onto tickets for the limited engagement.

But there are plenty of goodies if you don't follow the herd. Among the lineup of 33 Broadway shows that set the all-time mark for attendance, 26 have opened since the beginning of the new millennium.

The big names aren't confined to Broadway. We saw Elisabeth Shue, Jeff Goldblum and Amanda Plummer up close and personal in smaller houses. In all, we took in 10 shows over the holidays. Better still, my reading glasses turned up in my pants pocket.

Here's the official scorecard:


Medea (3/4 out of 4 stars) -- Fiona Shaw's performance in the title role is the talk of Broadway, the surest Tony Award up there. With a new translation of the venerable Euripides text by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael and a radically fresh vision of the tragedy by director Deborah Warner, this is not the majestic termagant Medea of old.
The murderous mom has been transplanted to the modern world and deposited in a curiously imposing villa with a plexiglass facade. When she emerges, striding toward the family pool in sunglasses and casual wear, raging over Jason's opportunistic betrayal, Medea is besieged by a female chorus -- construed by some critics (without overpowering evidence) to be paparazzi.

If this mythic sorceress radiates less majesty, the heat of Shaw's rage is no less fearsome and scorching. She is so outraged, so bent on vengeance, she can hardly remain in her skin -- jumping and stamping madly to escape it. Does that sound oddly like childish petulance?

That's the horror of it. Pampered in a plastic aura of celebrity, it's not Medea's royal dignity that's offended. It's her vanity. She cold-bloodedly murders her own children for petty spite -- because she's driven to win and come out on top at all costs.

Jonathan Cake makes Jason a heroic hunk, quite the appropriate object for Medea's towering rage. What's more, Cake plays Jason's pragmatism with hardly a trace of guile, slightly slick in his charm, but matching Shaw decibel for decibel in his passion -- and sense of injury. A very human performance.

While the final murders are lurid, Warner is not fixated on shock value. At the end, Jason and Medea are poolside, drained and enervated from all their tantrums and sufferings. You almost get the idea that the whole passionate, bloody cycle could begin all over again.Thoroughly Modern Millie (1/2) -- The Tony Award exploits of Sutton Foster are still on view in the title role, more than sufficient reason to take advantage of "Season of Savings" discounts available at 1-800-ILOVENY and This budding superstar belts, taps and charms with the best of them. And the award-winning villainess, Harriet Harris, is still stopping the show with her dragon lady shtick as Mrs. Meers.
Book and new music also live up to their press clippings, staying close to the nutty spirit and storyline of the 1967 film while sprinkling new twists along the way. And the deathless "Mammy" is sung in Chinese.

Thoroughly irresistible.

Def Poetry Jam (1/4) -- Harvesting the creme de la creme of the burgeoning poetry slam circuit, producer Russell Simmons and director Stan Lathan have honed a new theatrical format that uses rap and performance art as its twin launching pads. The result is nothing like a musical.
Moving unpredictably from silly self-absorption to revolutionary rage, from topical comedy to meditations on the poets' cultural roots, the Def Poetry Jam somewhat resembles Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls. But instead of a half dozen actresses alternately performing a single poet's writings, Def brings us nine poets performing their own.

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