ON HIS MARK
You know the heat is on in Hollywood (to get as many movies made as possible before the upcoming strike) when Mark Ruffalo has to turn down a Kenneth Lonergan play. He owes his stardom--and his Obie--to Lonergan's This Is Our Youth (1996). And You Can Count on Me, a gem of an independent film that Lonergan wrote and directed for Ruffalo and Laura Linney, may get Ruffalo in the Oscar running. So the actor didn't hesitate to sign on when Lonergan's Lobby Hero came up at Playwrights Horizons, especially as it's to be helmed by This Is Our Youth director Mark Brokaw. But then Hollywood complicated matters by making an offer he couldn't refuse: a million-dollar role opposite Robert Redford in The Castle, a prison flick being directed by The Contender's Rod Lurie. The upshot: Lobby Hero goes into rehearsal on Monday with "the fabulous" Glenn Fitzgerald (those adjectives are Lonergan's). Also in the cast: Tate Donovan, Heather Burns, and Dion Graham.
MUTED MUSICALS OF 2001
White-hot rumor of the week is that Stephen Sondheim has permanently shelved his Wiseguys....Also, John Kander and Fred Ebb are said to have abandoned their poor starless vehicle The Visit and moved on to--or, rather, back to--their whodunit musical Curtains....And it's sad but true that Grover's Corners, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's musical version of Our Town will probably never again see the light of day. "The rights have reverted to the Thornton Wilder estate," says Jones, who opines that "the show contains some of our best work." This was the project Mary Martin was going to take on (in the role of the narrator/stage manager) when she was taken ill for the last time. After that, Jones & Schmidt had trouble getting the property on its feet, although there were a couple of serious nibbles and one full production at the Marriott Lincolnshire in Chicago a few years ago. Another deciding factor in quelling Grover's Corners was the fact that Over and Over, Kander & Ebb's musical version of Wilder' s The Skin of Our Teeth, lifted off to less-than-rapturous notices in Washington, D.C. and then stopped in its tracks. The fate of Mirette, the next Jones & Schmidt endeavor, "is an even sadder story" according to Jones--so sad he won't even go into it. But he and his songwriting partner appear to have picked themselves up and dusted themselves off: They have a new musical, Roadside, premiering in February in Dallas. And Jones is collaborating with Billy Goldenberg on the musical version of Harold and Maude that Estelle Parsons has been workshopping.
Last Friday was a tough one for Dame Judi Dench. It was the first Friday in a good 30 years that she did not get a rose from her husband, Michael Williams; the 65-year-old actor died the day before of lung cancer. (You'll recall that his illness interrupted Dench's Tony-winning Broadway run in Amy's View.) She was at his bedside at the time of his passing, and had been there since August, turning down work to be his nurse. Katharine Hepburn did the same thing for the last five years of Spencer Tracy's life, then plunged back into work, winning two more Oscars in the final phase of her career. It'll be interesting to see if Dame Judi takes the same antidote.
Lasse Hallstrom, who directed Dench (to a possible Oscar nomination) in Chocolat, has made no secret of the fact that he'd like her to appear in The Shipping News, which he'll start filming in March in Nova Scotia with Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore....Spacey's lovely appreciation of Jason Robards in this past Sunday's edition of The New York Times pointed out parallels in the lives of the two actors: Both were born on July 26, both played Jamie in Long Day's Journey Into Night and Hickey in The Iceman Cometh, etc. But modesty apparently prevented Spacey from mentioning that he and Robards are among the few people who've received two Academy Awards.
STAN THE (FREE)MAN
The musical theater world lost one of its most special lights Saturday with the passing of Stan Freeman, 80. Broadway buffs know him for writing terrific songs for unsuccessful shows, such as I Had a Ball (in collaboration with Jack Lawrence) and Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen (with Franklin Underwood). Mercury Records released a cast album of the former, but the latter got lost until this year, when producer Robert Sher finally got the show down on disc. Freeman personally supervised the laying down of the orchestral and most of the vocal tracks of this underappreciated score, and reportedly was quite pleased with the results.
Saluting Stan is too easy, because he was something of a Renaissance man: composer, conductor, lyricist, arranger, jazz pianist, solo performer. He followed Burt Bacharach as Marlene Dietrich's conductor and continued in that capacity right up to the last night she ever performed live before an audience. As an actor, he did an eerily on-target Oscar Levant in At Wit's End and toured with that one-man show. In private life, the role he played was that of Gravelly Voiced Cumudgeon, flashing a mordant wit and refusing to suffer fools--qualities cherished by his friends. A day with Stan was full of wit and joy. His health had been touch-and-go in recent years, and many of his friends were worried that he wouldn't finish the Lovely Ladies sessions. Thank God he did. And thank God for pals like Michael Feinstein who rallied 'round him in his last year, helping where they could.
The Drama League has lined up some impressive talent to salute Chita Rivera at The Pierre on February 5, including Rosemary Clooney, Ann Reinking, Alan King, and Carol Lawrence, plus a rush of Tony winners as befits the twice-Tonyed La Rivera: Dorothy Loudon, Brian Stokes Mitchell and, returning at last to the New York theatrical scene, Tommy Tune!...Chita herself will be among the stars twinkling 'n' shining on January 22 at the Broadhurst at the memorial performance celebrating the life of legendary dancer-choreographer Peter Gennaro, who died on September 28 at the age of 80. The event, produced by the National Dance Institute, will also feature Barbara Cook, Martin Charnin (director-lyricist of Annie, for which Gennaro got the Tony), Andrea McArdle, Judy Collins, Lee Roy Reams, John Schuck , and the orphans from the U.S. touring company of Annie.