Victoria Clark has a vivid memory of the first time she saw Jeff Blumenkrantz. "I went to see Into the Woods and he was on as Jack," she says. "I was surprised at just how good he was, especially since he was the understudy. I thought, 'Please, please, please, let me work with him someday' -- and, the next week, I was playing the moon opposite him in Harold and the Purple Crayon. I had this big wig on, and I kept bumping into other people onstage. It was hilarious."
Since then, the two have remained not just close friends and occasional co-stars -- they appeared together in the revival of How to Succeed -- but Clark has also become a muse for Blumenkrantz the songwriter. Their musical collaboration will be on display twice next month. In Clark's American Songbook concert on February 10 , Blumenkrantz will guest star; and, on February 13, Clark will perform in The Jeff Blumenkrantz Songbook, which kicks off the Spring Season at Birdland. "In both shows," she tells me, "I'll be doing some of Jeff's songs that I haven't done before -- some of which he wrote for me. I particularly love his setting of an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem called 'Love is Not All.' "
Those two evenings won't be her only departures from her Tony Award-winning role of Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza. On February 27, Clark will appear in a staged reading of Rachel Crothers' When Ladies Meet as part of The Acting Company's Salon Series. "It's quite a good piece," she says. "I play this party host who has opinions about everything that happens, which is fun. But what I really like about the play is that it turns the tables on relationships. Plus I get to work with Boyd Gaines again; we did Cabaret together for about five minutes before he went off to do Contact."
Clark recently extended her stay in Piazza through July 2, although she will be taking Tuesday and Wednesday evenings off. "My son is 11 and I want to spend more time with him while he still likes me, before I become the anti-Christ," she says with a laugh. "But this is the part of the lifetime, and it would be silly to pack up my suitcase and go home. Patti Cohenour [who will play the role at those performances] is just fantastic, and very different than me. She's very elegant, like a beautiful work of art."
The announcement that Piazza director Bartlett Sher will helm the first Broadway revival of South Pacific in 2007-2008 at the Beaumont has spurred some Internet chat about Clark being cast as Nellie Forbush. "That part is in my voice, my body, and my spirit," she says, "so if they decide to go with me, I'd be over the moon. I think it's a great show with a fantastic book and a strong story. Bart is definitely the right director for it. And I'm finally used to the Beaumont stage; when we first started rehearsing Piazza, I thought I was on a Lazy Susan."
BRUCE IT UP
Jason Fisher readily admits that he wasn't very familiar with Lenny Bruce before being cast in Lenny Bruce...In His Own Words, which opens February 1 at the Zipper. "There was just something about the whole gestalt that made me think I could play this guy," he says. "I feel like I have a certain energy that works for Lenny." Now that's he's immersed in Bruce's world, Fisher understands why the comic remains a legend 40 years after his untimely death: "The thing that makes people come back to Lenny is that he told the truth. He wasn't coy about things; he spoke with a real frankness to his intelligence. Sometimes he hit things on the head in a way that was revolutionary back then and still feels modern. I think the stuff he said is still worth saying."
Fisher previously performed the show in L.A., to diverse reactions from audiences. "First, everybody there over the age of 40 claimed to be a close personal friend of Lenny's," he notes. "There were some people who really did know him, who took the time to talk to me after the show and tell me that what I was doing was cool. Other people made it clear through their eyes that they were disappointed by what I was doing, But this show is about getting his essence; it's more a celebration than an impersonation. I was never any good at imitations."
Victoria Clark isn't the only Light in the Piazza star who's moonlighting. Far from it! On Monday, February 6 at Joe's Pub, her castmates Aaron Lazar, Katie Clarke, Sarah Uriarte Berry, Patti Cohenour, Glenn Seven Allen, Jennifer Hughes, Joe Siravo, Laura Griffith, Catherine Lavalle, and David Bonanno will come together for a special one-night-only concert titled The Lights of Piazza. Expect to hear everything from new songs to old Italian arias.
KEEPING UP WITH MS. LISTER-JONES
Being cast as Ellen in Douglas Carter Beane's comedy The Little Dog Laughed, about a closeted gay movie star, was exciting enough for Zoe Lister-Jones. But getting to work with two of her favorite TV performers has been an even bigger bonus for the recent NYU graduate. "I had been a huge Roseanne fan," she says, "so it's great to be with Johnny Galecki [who plays her boyfriend Alex]. But what was so weird was that, on the first day, he was whispering all these facts in my ear that he must have learned about me from Google, and I had nothing to say back. I'm also super-excited to work with Julie White because I was obsessed with her character on Six Feet Under. We share a dressing room now, and our processes are very similar. Our idea of research is sitting around reading the tabloids to find about what Lindsay Lohan is doing."
Lister-Jones says she can definitely relate to Ellen, a sort of demi-celebrity type who spends her life in nightclubs: "When we started rehearsal, Scott Ellis, our director, was saying how he had done research on party girls like Ellen. I was, like, 'Scott, if you want to know party girls, just come out with me.' But trust me, I also know people like Ellen, who party on a different level than I do." The young star is also getting know a whole lot of real celebrities. "Joan Rivers came backstage after one show," she relates, "and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. The other night, the head guy from Iron Chef America was there. And, one night we heard that there was this really cute male actor in the audience. I just couldn't concentrate on my performance because I kept thinking, 'Who is it? Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal?' But it turned out to be Alan Rickman, who is great but isn't really my type."
Once the show closes, Lister-Jones hopes to get back to work on a screenplay she's writing, which Will Frears is set to direct. "It's about this girl who's just graduated from college, has had her heart broken many times, and ends up taking a trip to Hollywood with her parents," she tells me. "Of course, I want to play the lead. The only person I'd give it up for is Mary-Kate Olsen!"
TV favorites Jim Beaver and Bridget Hanley have the leads in Theatre West's The Lion in Winter; Rick Stear, who was a memorable Sebastian in Lincoln Center's Twelfth Night, takes on the role of Katurian in the Alley Theatre production of The Pillowman; Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen joins Alicia Silverstone and Rebecca Pidgeon in the Geffen Playhouse production of David Mamet's Boston Marriage, beginning January 31.
A performance by Karen Mason will mark the return of the "Any Wednesday" series at Tower Records Lincoln Center on February 1; Liz Callaway has joined the cast of Symphony Space's Broadway and Beyond concert on February 2; Rosemary Prinz heads the cast of Susan Sandler's comedy Under the Bed in a production by the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, February 19-April 2.
Finally, I've seen some familiar faces at the theater lately: Chandler Williams, who was so wonderful in Rope, attended the Irish Rep's fine production of Mrs Warren's Profession; the lovely Heather Tom took in The Little Dog Laughed; and Joy Behar and John McDaniel were there for the opening of Judy Gold's fantastically funny 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.