Paul Newman, who directed the missus (Joanne Woodward) to an Oscar nomination (Rachel, Rachel) and in two equally Oscar-worthy screen performances beyond that (The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and The Glass Menagerie), has at this late date taken up stage managing to support the Westport Country Playhouse, which the little lady now runs. In true star fashion, he will be the ultimate Stage Manager--the one in Thornton Wilder's abiding piece of Americana, Our Town--in a revival there, June 5-June 22.
This will mark Newman's first stage appearance since The World of Nick Adams two months ago. (In that one-night-only gala reading at Avery Fisher Hall, which benefited his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang charity, he reprised the role of the battered old boxer he had played 40 years earlier in the film Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man--and he did it with a certain magnificence.) Not too long ago, he was among the readers of A.R. Gurney's Ancestral Voices at Westport. His last appearance in a fully staged theatrical production--excluding the gag coffin cameo he did one night when Woodward was doing a Westport revival of Arsenic and Old Lace--was a 1964 Off-Broadway run of James Costigan's Baby Wants a Kiss in which the couple garnered the best comedy notices of their careers. They met on Broadway, doing William Inge's Picnic in 1953; he was Janice Rule's suitor, she was her sister.
Newman did two other Broadway plays, 1955's The Desperate Hours and 1959's Sweet Bird of Youth, and there's a chance he will return in Our Town. James Naughton, who's helming the enterprise, rules nothing out: "There are all kinds of chances that all kinds of things might happen." Encouragingly ambiguous, that. What a gift that would be!
Naughton, who was with the Newmans for the Nick Adams evening and has been their friend and neighbor since they did The Glass Menagerie together in the '80s, has directed for Broadway before (The Price) and, for that matter, for Westport, where he's on the artistic advisory board. The way he tells it, "Joanne called me in November and said, 'As you know, I've wanted to do Our Town since I took over the Playhouse two years ago. I think it's particularly appropriate after September 11, and Paul wants to play the Stage Manager. Would you direct it?' And I said, 'Yes. Of course.'" Voila! Done deal.
The young lovers of Grovers Corners have yet to be cast, but their parents will be played by Jane Curtin, Frank Converse, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Jayne Atkinson. Meanwhile, the Newmans' own love story continues. On Tuesday January 29, three days after his 77th birthday, they will mark their 44th anniversary. And you gave 'em two weeks!
WILL THE FIREBIRD PULL A PHOENIX?
Cabaret buffs--at least, those who have heard the news--are mourning the demise of The FireBird. When they rang out the old year, that elegant little club went with it. Its passing has not been noted much, I suspect because another club will shortly rise from its ashes. I further suspect (no one will confirm or deny this, because "exclusives" have been promised) that the chic, new 46th Street waterhole will be the West Side sister to the East Side's Arci's Place. John Miller, proprietor of the latter, has long-rumored he's going West into an "already built" club. Maybe, just maybe, this is it. If so, it'll really make Miller the cabaret king--emperor, even.
KAREN'S GOT GAME
Karen Ziemba, who's playing the Plaza on Monday (headlining with Audra McDonald and Marc Kudisch at Manhattan Theater Club's winter benefit, An Intimate Evening), will be changing her tune and wearing a union label come spring (May 2-6) when she plays "Babe," head of the grievance committee, in the Encores! rendering of The Pajama Game at City Center. Miz Z. has been Gladys in Games-gone-by (i.e., the comic role that Carol Haney rode to a Tony and Shirley MacLaine rode to stardom), but now she has graduated to the lead--and she's hoping to have Brent Barrett back among us to play her management foil, Sid (the guy who sings "Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes..."). Currently, Barrett is in London, giving--as are Marin Mazzie, Michael Berresse, and Nancy Anderson--an Olivier Award-nominated performance in the transplanted Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate that's all the rage on the West End.
Ziemba is also working on a mother-daughter act with Polly Bergen, written by Deborah Grace Winer and titled Little Shows. It recently had a very successful reading and Mark Waldrop is to helm the piece as soon as he gets Bea Arthur to B'way in her new show. For the record, this will be Bergen and Ziemba's second mother-daughter pairing; they previously had that relationship in an Actors' Fund benefit reading of The Women at the Lortel.
FAME AND BEYOND
On Monday, in the north rotunda of the Gershwin Theater, they're clearing a space for eight new names for the Theater Hall of Fame. The 2001 inductees are composer Charles Strouse, the American Theater Wing's Isabelle Stevenson, costumer Alvin Colt, choreographer Peter Gennaro, actor George Grizzard, Phoenix Theater's T.E. Hambleton, and critics Henry Hewes, and Rubert Brustein. Among those doing the inducting: 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace, actress Marian Seldes, director-lyricist Martin Charnin, playwright A.R. Gurney, actress Rosemary Harris, critic Chris Rawson, and living legend Carol Channing. La Seldes will emcee the affair, assuring that it will have The Proper Theatrical Tone.
One of the inductees above has not one but two shows poised on the immediate theatrical horizon--namely, Strouse. On February 15, he and his Bye Bye Birdie lyricist, Lee Adams, will have another presentation of their musical version of the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1955, Marty. Rupert Holmes did the book (via Paddy Chayefsky's teleplay and screenplay) and John C. Reilly, a recent True West Tony contender, will essay the Bronx butcher of the title--the role that won Ernest Borgnine an Oscar (and a career).
Another movie inspired Strouse's other Broadway-bound endeavor: 1968's The Night They Raided Minsky's. It will have lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, a book by Blackboard Jungle's Evan Hunter, and the direction of Jerry Zaks. If Strouse has his way, it will also have Noises Off's Katie Finneran in the role of the Amish lass who stumbles into burlesque; Britt Ekland played it memorably in the movie version, you'll recall.
Don't show this again.