Donna Murphy
Donna Murphy
The problem with a very public pregnancy--hers was the reason The Weisslers' revival of Wonderful Town won't be happening this season--is that you have to shoot down the congratulations of well-wishers when you suffer a miscarriage. Donna Murphy, on the mend from this, is making it through with grace and candor. And she is taking the best thing possible for what ails her: She is taking work.

Murphy is going to play the title role in Helen (as in Helen of Troy) in a new play written by the angel (Ellen McLaughlin), and directed by the author (Tony Kushner), of Angels in America. Denis O'Hare of Major Barbara, Phylicia Rashad of Blue, Mary Louise Wilson of The Women, and Johanna Day of Proof will join the two-time Tony winner when rehearsals begin at the Public. Performances start there February 26. (The Public played host to a previous McLaughlin work, Tongue of a Bird, which starred Cherry Jones.)

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KEEPING UP WITH THE SMITH

Syndicated columnist Liz Smith has always been in a league of her own. Now, she is in a Drama League of her own: On February 25, at the Pierre Hotel, she becomes the first journalist to receive the annual salute of the Drama League, a group that normally honors directors, composers, lyricists, and performers of Broadway. Liz is "just" a champion of Broadway--and a long-standing one--as she is of the Drama League. In years past, she has sung "Deep in the Heart of Liza" when you-know-who was fêted and, at the Rosie O'Donnell gala, she joined Diane Sawyer and Mary Tyler Moore in camouflage as Kit Kat Klub girls while Alan Cumming bid "Wilkommen" to one and all.

The Drama League, incidentally, went through a quiet and bloodless coup three weeks ago when Pat S. Follert assumed the titles of president and chief executive of that august group, replacing Julia S. Hansen, who has been kicked higher upstairs to chairman of the board. For some time now, Hansen has been living a tale of two cities: How to Cover Broadway While Living in Aspen.

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STRITCH 'N' TUNE

Elaine Stritch, who shares the same birthday (February 2) as her longtime pal Liz Smith, is giving herself a big Broadway show 19 days later to mark the spot. Fact is, she is the show--the whole show. Elaine Stritch: At Liberty starts previewing at the Neil Simon on the sixth after a rattling good SRO run at The Public and fully deserved raves that lesser actresses would open a vein for. So Madame can afford to be a little magnanimous: She lent her dresser to Tommy Tune (Smith's fellow Texan) so that he and The Manhattan Rhythm Kings could play Donald Trump's New Year's Eve bash in Florida.

Tommy Tune
Tommy Tune
Tune is easing back into the performing saddle after his multi-million-dollar EFX servitude in Vegas. "I'm workin' on lettin' go," the tuckered Tune told me the day after he returned, when he was only able to let go of g's. The homecoming couldn't have been more appropriately glitzy: On his first day back, he showed up at the TKTS booth in Times Square and participated in the star-stacked, Broadway-boosting TV ad that the League of American Theaters and Producers did to counteract the business slump after September 11.

"I just have to rest," The Tall One admitted. "I did 900 shows [of EFX]. When the contract was over, I felt very proud that I had fulfilled it, but it was the hardest thing I ever did. I had 13 costume changes per show, which is really a lot; I hung upside down; I rose up, I came down, I flew over the audience. We did 10 shows a week in Vegas but it's two shows a night, so we actually have two days off--like a weekend--which I had never had in my life in show business." Still, he says, "It was a killer thing to do." Needless to add: Never again! Maury Yeston, who wrote Tony-winning songs for TT's Tony-winning Nine, is composing him another show to direct and choreograph. (And star in?)

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ANOTHER SLICE OF STILL LIFE

Noël Coward has his Still Life--you know it as the movie Brief Encounter--and Kathryn Rossetter has hers. The actress and teacher is directing Still Life: 2 American Portraits, an evening of one-act plays premiering tonight (January 11) and running through January 20 at the Bank Street Theater. Billed as "a night of Northern Stoops and Southern Porches," this premiere presentation of Quick Straw Bar Productions and Party Poopers, Inc. consists of About Face by Kass Munnell and The Carnarsie Line by Marla Mase.

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I'M DREAMING OF A GREEN CHRISTMAS...

...and it's no dream. Broadway had a great Christmas, with 23 shows doing between 94% and 104% capacity business. And that last figure wasn't forThe Producers--it was for The Rocky Horror Show, exiting in style! Box office-wise, this is what should happen during the holidays; but, given these times, who'd have guessed it? As Rent producer Jeffrey Seller told Variety: "The good story is, there was no story. Broadway behaved as it was supposed to."

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PAGING DIVA DEVOTEES

Donna McKechnie
Donna McKechnie
This is a red-letter weekend for lovers of great women in the theater: Two shows performed by women who started there and persist in doing theater songs in a cabaret venue are coming to a close. Tony-winner Donna McKechnie, in an Arci's Place reprise of My Musical Comedy Life (through January 14), is strutting her stuff spectacularly; thanks to a modestly enlarged dancing space, she even includes the "Turkey Lurkey" number from Promises, Promises that brought her front and center on Broadway. And over at the Algonquin's Oak Room (through January 12) is Andrea Marcovicci's classy crash course in Gertrude Lawrence, whose Lady in the Dark role she recently played in Philly. Rarely has learning been so enjoyable.

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FOLLOW, FOLLOW, FOLLOW

There shouldn't be a dry eye in the house when the first and most famous words from The Fantasticks are sung for the 17,162nd and last time at the Sullivan Street Playhouse. In 41 and one-half years, the fey whimsy of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (who, by the way, attended the University of Texas with Liz Smith) has become the world's longest-running musical, but its biggest hit has acquired a new poignancy since September 11:

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.

Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow,
Follow, follow, follow...