Broadway beyond the musicals

Broadway may not be all the way back from Sept. 11, but you'd never know it from the crowds packing Times Square last weekend. My new tip for visitors: Never try to roll your luggage ("It's a beautiful day, let's walk to the hotel!") through the heart of the Big Apple's entertainment district.

In general, about 75 percent of Broadway audiences attend musicals, with the Big 3 – "The Producers," "The Lion King," and "Mamma Mia!" – sold out for weeks to come.

We decided to counter-program and sample some straight plays, none of them smash hits but each with multiple Tony nominations.

A revival of "Noises Off" stars Broadway favorites Patti Lupone, Peter Gallagher, and Faith Prince, whose considerable singing talents aren't required here but whose exquisite sense of comic timing is. The action whizzes along in a story that alternates between the backstage and onstage shenanigans of an acting troupe on the road in Britain. It's an aerobic workout for actors, a confection for audiences.

The series of ancient myths told in "Metamorphoses" is played in a shallow swimming pool and along its sides, suggesting, perhaps, that human lives are as fluid and ever-changing as water. The tales are humorous and tragic, somber and playful, and always life-affirming. "We are all the children of God," it concludes. The wet staging works: It's innovative and provocative.

"Fortune's Fool" will satisfy those whose tastes run toward more traditional drama. In a moving performance, Alan Bates brings to life a penniless but noble 19th-century Russian aristocrat tormented by a sadistic neighbor (deliciously played by Frank Langella). It's a bittersweet story that liberally stirs the heart.

For more about Broadway shows this week, see pages 18 and 19.

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