Broadway shows still the ticket even as the economy stubs its toe

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Many gloomy things have been written about Broadway during the economic downturn, but things seem quite different if you're fighting through crowds in the theater district near curtain time or attempting to land a ticket to the likes of "South Pacific" or "Wicked," even at this point in their long runs.

The musical "The Story of My Life" did do a fast fold after four days (five performances plus prevues) on Sunday at the Booth, badly bruised by a negative review in the New York Times, but the courageous bolster on.

The newest revivals of "West Side Story" and "Blithe Spirit" began their prevue processes this week, "West Side" on Monday at the Palace and "Blithe" on Thursday at the Shubert. (Welcome back, Jets, Sharks and Angela Lansbury.)

On Saturday, two new plays begin prevues next door to each other: the comedy "God of Carnage," with Jeff Daniels and Marcia Gay Harden, at the Jacobs and "Impressionism," with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen, at the Shoenfeld. On Sunday, the newest "Guys and Dolls" opens at the Nederlander, the venerable Frank Loesser musical toplined this time by Oliver Platt, Craig Bierko and Lauren Graham. The same day, the redo of Rodgers and Hart's "Pal Joey" with Stockard Channing ends its trouble-plagued visit to Studio 54 in what always was planned as a limited run.

Next week offers even more fresh material. A new play by Lisa Loomer, "Distracted," with Cynthia Nixon, opens Wednesday at the off-Broadway Laura Pels. On March 6, a "Hair" revival spurred by its summer success as part of New York's Shakespeare in the Park series begins prevuing at the Al Hirschfeld, and prevues of Ionesco's "Exit the King," with Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon, begin March 7 at the Barrymore.

Oscar-worthy show

A few final words about Sunday's Oscar show on ABC: bravo, bravo, bravo. What a classy production it was; everyone involved can take a deep bow.

As for Hugh Jackman as host, I'm all for the Academy signing him to a long-term contract. He's not the first actor to be the host of an Oscar party — his predecessors include names as diverse as David Niven, Jane Fonda and Donald Duck — but few have brought the comfort level, easy charm and grace of Jackman, one of those rare fellows who seems to add internal kilowatt power whenever working in front of a crowd.

My favorite Jackman moment: In a bit choreographed by Baz Luhrmann and conjuring images of Fred Astaire, the host, in black tie, tails and carrying a walking stick (tossed to him by Brad Pitt from a front-row seat), danced down a staircase alongside a string of dancers in the best Hollywood-style razzle-dazzle, soon followed by a gorgeous Beyonce Knowles.

Favorite overall moment(s): Having five former Oscar-winning performers co-present the award to the champ in each acting category.

Favorite line: Steve Martin suddenly turning to co-presenter Tina Fey and admonishing her, "Don't fall in love with me!"

Unfunniest moment: Ben Stiller.

Favorite winner's comment: Sean Penn, with a smile after receiving his best actor prize for "Milk," "I know how hard I make it to appreciate me."

Overall, it was the freshest Oscar show in years and will cause sleepless nights for those trying to figure a way to top it.

Birthday Jones

It was March 2, 1944, the day the beautiful and enigmatic Jennifer Jones won the best actress Academy Award for "The Song of Bernadette"; that same day, she celebrated her 25th birthday. Some present, no? (And all that happened at Grauman's Chinese, just a few feet from where Penn, Kate Winslet and the Slumdoggers received their prizes Sunday.)

On Monday, Jones, now living with son Robert Walker Jr. and his wife in Malibu, will celebrate her 90th birthday. I wish her a healthy and peaceful one. It would be impossible to calculate the number of hours of pleasure she has given so many of us through "Bernadette," "Since You Went Away," "Love Letters," "Duel in the Sun," "Cluny Brown," "Portrait of Jennie," "Madame Bovary," "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Beat the Devil" and the other first-class films she has enriched with her presence.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host of Turner Classic Movies.
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