Commentary: They might be on their final acts, but there's no need to get dramatic about it

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Three more Broadway shows soon will bite the dust.

"Irena's Vow," starring Tovah Feldshuh, will vacate the Walter Kerr on June 28 after 105 performances and 21 prevues. The same night, "August: Osage County," now with Phylicia Rashad heading the cast, will call it a day at the Music Box after 648 performances and 18 prevues.

Also exiting after a nine-week run will be the Roundabout's production of "The Philanthropist," toplined by Matthew Broderick and Steven Weber. Soothsayers already are pointing to the exit as another example of today's economic woes, but that's hogwash. For one thing, the play was planned as a limited run, with its June 28 expiration date advertised as plainly as if it were on a milk carton.

Meanwhile, "Irena's," which began with great success off-Broadway, never was able to find an audience at the 947-seat Kerr. The lack of a Tony nomination didn't help its cause, nor did the stiff competition from so many other star-laden straight plays competing on the boards nor the stiff price of a Broadway seat these days (a $98 top for "Irena's").

Still, my admiration goes out tenfold to Feldshuh, who has done a heroic job beating the drum for her play. She knows full well how important it is for an actor to help sell the product, but in this case it didn't work the needed miracle.

As for "August," it's had a highly successful 19-month run. It also turned a profit for its producers and investors early on, won a Pulitzer, five Tonys and spawned a tour, so no sad songs for it. (And all shows eventually close, you know, even in the best of economic times.)

The one error in judgment for "August," in my opinion, was choosing Rashad to take over the lead from Estelle Parsons last month. Rashad is a dazzlingly good actress, more than up to the demanding role, but because "August" centers on a tight-knit, wholly dysfunctional white-bread family in redneck Oklahoma, it hardly serves Tracy Letts' powerful play to have Mama played by a black actress when the rest of the clan is made up of white actors.

It would be just as detrimental, of course, to cast Parsons as the mother in the recent revival of "A Raisin in the Sun" with Sean Combs, a part Rashad played so effectively.

I'm all for color-blind casting -- except when it defeats the contents of the play in question.

Something else to keep in mind about the shrinking number of shows at the moment: A summer shrinkage has been a theater tradition in New York since there was a theater hub. Broadway seasons traditionally run September-May, always with fewer shows playing during the hot and humid months. It was thus even during the lush theatergoing days of the 1940s.

That said, a major event did launch this week: the Encores! Summer Stars production of "The Wiz" at the City Center, directed by Thomas Kail ("In the Heights") and starring Ashanti. After Thursday's bow, it is in residence until July 5.

Most "Encores!" shows only run for a five- or six-day stretch, so having this William F. Brown-Charlie Smalls musical around for three weeks gives more people a chance to see a production from an organization that consistently offers the best treats in musical theater the city has to offer.

Park place

The Shakespeare in the Park production via the Public Theatre of "Twelfth Night," with Anne Hathaway, Raul Esparza, Audra McDonald and Michael Cumpsty, stays in gear among the trees through July 12. It will be followed by Euripides' "The Bacchae," directed by JoAnne Akalaitis with original music by Philip Glass, from Aug. 11-Sept. 6.

Cabaret must

The response to the Feinstein's at Loews Regency cabaret act that teams Michael Feinstein and Cheyenne Jackson has been so powerful (SRO each show) that they'll be back for six added shows Thursday through June 27.

If you're anywhere near Manhattan, try to shoehorn this in. You'll see two of the top talents in our midst today, both at their best: Feinstein, the unmatchable pro, and Jackson, the only male in the music-showbiz arena likely to make Hugh Jackman envious.
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