The National Theatre, which has been dark since mid-October, will reopen on Feb. 6 with the pre-Broadway tryout of "M. Butterfly," a new drama by David Henry Hwang.
The booking follows a decision by the Shubert Organization, which manages the theater, not to premiere the British musical "Chess" here. The National's season had been on hold while the Shuberts and "Chess" director Trevor Nunn attempted to resolve the logistics of an out-of-town tryout for the multimillion-dollar show.
Phil Smith, executive vice president of the Shubert Organization, said yesterday that the complex scenery and related stagehand costs made the Washington engagement of "Chess" economically unfeasible. While the musical, which uses an international chess match as a metaphor for the competition between the superpowers, has been widely anticipated in New York, Smith said a Broadway opening has not yet been set and the show's "fate this season is still up in the air."
"M. Butterfly," based on a real-life spy scandal in the 1960s involving a French diplomat and a Chinese transvestite opera singer, will run through March 6. John Lithgow stars as the diplomat and B.D. Wong will play the singer, under John Dexter's direction.
A return engagement of the musical "Cats" -- its third run here -- has been scheduled to open April 11, with a minimum run of 10 weeks. The hit Broadway musical "Me and My Girl" will also play the National in 1988, probably in June or August. "Dates are still being juggled," Smith said.
Only four shows played the National in 1987 for a total of 19 weeks, and trustees of the National Theatre Corp., the nonprofit organization that governs the theater, have been upset about the dark time.
"We think things will be better in 1988," Bernard B. Jacobs, president of the Shubert Organization, said yesterday. "There aren't a lot of touring productions right now, but when you talk about shows trying out, something's always happening."