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Josie Sings Again!

JOSEPHINE BAKER gets the biomusical treatment, ROBERT SEAN LEONARD reunites with TOM STOPPARD, and a certain diva's antics catch up with her.

By New York City

IN THE OVEN, BAKERING

The life of Josephine Baker was the stuff of which musical theater is made. So perhaps it's not so surprising to discover that a new show along those lines is currently in the works. It's called Josephine's Song, and it will star Tamara Tunie, who arrives in movie houses Friday as Samuel L. Jackson's estranged wife in The Caveman's Valentine.

With a cast of 18-20, the show covers Baker's roller-coaster career in this country and on the continent--but it will not utilize her music. The original songs are the work of Walter Marks, who also co-authored the book with the show's director, Kent Gash. "We did a staged reading, and the response we got was what prompted them to go to workshop as soon as possible," says Tunie. "We start rehearsing for that the last week in April and present it in mid-May. Then, hopefully, it'll move into a theater in New York. It's inherently theatrical the way they've conceived it, so I think it could really do something. The show is her life, but it's not chronological or linear in that way; it's more emotionally driven, jumping back and forth a bit, but the emotional line carries us through. There's a lot to chew on with this role. I get to sing some incredibly beautiful songs. Believe me, I don't get to do that very often!"

Those who know Tunie as "Jessica" on As the World Turns or as a Shakespearean actress (Troilus and Cressida at The Public, Cleopatra to Robert Cuccoli's Antony at New Jersey Shakespeare) may be surprised at her musical gifts, but that's all part of her plan. "When I first came to New York, I came with a degree in musical theater from Carnegie Mellon," she says. "I sang, I danced, I acted, and I got pigeonholed as a musical-theater performer. So I made a choice to stop doing musicals and focus on the legit stuff; I changed agents and immediately got my first film, a charming little independent called Sweet Lorraine. Then As the World Turns came along. Now, when I open my mouth to sing, everyone is shocked and amazed. And I think to myself, 'Mission: Accomplished.' "

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MULLEN OVER IRELAND

Whatever happened to Marie Mullen? The Tony-winning Best Actress of 1998 has gone from mother-bashing in The Beauty Queen of Leenane to mother-bleeping, favoring a popular 12-letter expletive as the beleaguered mom in an upcoming and uproarious Irish flick, When Brendan Met Trudy....Garry Hynes, who also won a Tony for The Beauty Queen of Leenane (and, indeed, became the first woman ever to win for Best Director), just finished teaming Mullen's Leenane lover (Brian O'Byrne) and Mullen's real-life husband (Sean McGinley) in a three-hander in Galway called The Hackney Office. This opus by Michael Collins is set in a gypsy cab dispatch station that also fronts for drug traffic....Hynes' next case will be a revival of Beth Henley's 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winner Crimes of the Heart at the stateside Second Stage starring Mrs. O'Byrne: Amy Ryan, a Tony nominee for Uncle Vanya and a current star of Saved. Opening night will be April 16....Joey Kern and Terence Rigby, who co-star with Ryan in Saved, will also be in the Peter Hall-helmed Troilus and Cressida that will succeed Saved at American Place Theater....O'Byrne, who was Tony-nominated for two Martin McDonagh donnybrooks (The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West), sat out the third Leenane opus (A Skull in Connemara) when it bowed Off-Broadway, though he did all three plays in England and Ireland--sometimes in the same day! He also turned down McDonagh's next (and his own personal favorite), The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which lifts off shortly in England. This one would have required a year-and-a-half commitment, and O'Bryne says that he's frankly enjoying being "a house-husband." Inishmore and McDonagh's next, The Banshees of Inisheer, complete his second trilogy, which commenced here last year at The Public with The Cripple of Inishmaan....Roberta Maxwell, who starred in the latter, and Catherine Doyle are currently christening a refurbished theater space on the second floor at Primary Stages with Kilt, written by Canadian author Jonathan Wilson and directed by Jack Hofsiss, the Tony-winning director of The Elephant Man. It will play to invitation-only audiences for 10 performances as a workshop. Then, with luck, it'll find a house Off-Broadway.

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MY UNCLE VALENTINE

Robert Sean Leonard
Robert Sean Leonard
The only artwork adorning Robert Sean Leonard's new dressing room at the Lyceum is a valentine from his niece, Cassie, whom he treated to Beauty and the Beast recently. Nieces know best. In his finest New York appearances to date, Leonard has played characters named Valentine: the dentist in George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell and the mathematician in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Says Leonard, "I used to tell people, 'Shaw' is God, and there'll never be another. I was clearly born at the wrong time.' When I read Arcadia, I thought, 'I can't say that anymore.' Stoppard is our Shaw."

In his second brush with the British writer, The Invention of Love at the Lyceum, Leonard has had the luxury of having Stoppard around to do spot checks, and he again found the playwright's presence invaluable: "Same as Arcadia. He was here the first week of rehearsal, then he came back when we did the first run-through maybe two weeks in, and he's going to be back for the previews."

In the show, Leonard and Richard Easton play young and old versions of A.E. Housman, the classical scholar, poet, and closeted homosexual. The character is the exact opposite to the flamboyant dandy in the class ahead of Housman at Oxford, Oscar Wilde, whose grandstanding as a practicing homosexual earned him hard time in prison and an early death; Housman lived to be 77, dying the daily death of repression. "Better a fallen rocket than never a burst of light," trumpets Wilde in a surprise, historically unsupported (indeed, posthumous) appearance in The Invention of Love.

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QUESTION ME AN ANSWER

What Tony-winner's diva-like antics reportedly cost her a return gig as a chanteuse at a posh hotel because the staff en masse put in for vacations during her stint, so they wouldn't have to deal with her again?....What glamorous star was not invited to the funeral of her equally famous ex?....What glamorous star attended the memorial service of her equally famous ex and heard him eulogized with the same words used for her even-more-famous first husband ("We will not see his like again")?


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