THE LORD IN WINTER

There's a reason they don't write songs like "February in Pittsburgh," as Andrew Lloyd Webber can now doubtlessly attest. That's where the titled songwriter has been of late, tinkering in earnest with his By Jeeves musical along with the show's original director: Alan Ayckbourn, the prolific and eminently unavailable playwright (until recently represented in New York by Comic Potential). The complete cast, costumes, and sets from the Goodspeed production showed up for the Pittsburgh run as well.

Now, it doesn't take a Baker Street buff to deduce from the clues above that the show is about ready to charge Broadway--the theater logjam be damned. Certainly, after his Cats' 17-year stay at the Winter Garden, Lord Lloyd Webber still has the clout to make things move. The most logical and likely spot for By Jeeves would seem to be the Booth, but now I hear that The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe will continue at least until April Fool's Day, and that would put unrealistic pressure on Jeeves to get here before the Tony Awards cutoff date. Of course, there's nothing wrong with bowing in July on Broadway-- Tom Selleck and A Thousand Clowns are making a run for it then--and, in fact, that scenario might be advisable. With high-calorie entries like The Producers and The Full Monty eligible for Tonys this season, a simple little after-dinner mint like By Jeeves might be overlooked.

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Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins
HIGH-TONED TONY

The man of a thousand monstrous faces (Nixon and Hannibal, for two), Anthony Hopkins, is in town drum-beating for Hannibal Lecter's latest flick, which opens Friday. He pulled down $30 million for this one, so don't expect Hopkins back on Broadway any time soon. In fact, when a reporter asked him if he was planning any stage work, he scoffed, "No, it's boring!" (This from the man who got a Tony for Equus.)

Hopkins just wrapped The Devil and Daniel Webster, playing the latter. Discreetly, he said very little about the other half of the title act: a Satanic Jennifer Love Hewitt ("I only worked with her three days. She seemed to be all right. Very pretty.") In this contemporary take on the American classic, Alec Baldwin plays a writer who sells his soul for the popularity of John Grisham. Baldwin also makes his film-directing debut with this project, and Hopkins had nothing but praise for his efficiency and effectiveness in that new role--a neat trick, considering the trauma he must be going through after splitting with Kim Basinger.

In the previous film version of The Devil and Daniel Webster, the loquacious Webster was played by Edward Arnold (when a buggy mishap early into the filming sidelined Thomas Mitchell), and the Devil (here called "Mr. Scratch") got an Oscar-nominated spin from Walter Huston. This is a more traditional kind of treatment of Stephen Vincent Benet's story, such as you'll see on March 13 at City Center when the play concludes the premiere season of Voices!, a series of readings of rarely revived, great American plays. The instigator and producer of this series--a nonmusical edition of City Center's massively popular Encores!--is Baldwin. (A little advance work for the movie, Alec?)

Voices! may be stilled with this outing unless sales improve, according to City Center prexy Judith E. Daykin. She's shopping around for sponsors so that the series will see at least a second season. Here's hoping...

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CRITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

The critics come calling on Annie Get Your Gun this week, and I wonder how many of them will notice how much better suited Reba McIntire is for the title role than her recent predecessors. What Bernadette Peters spent so much of her Tony-winning skills working on--a countrified persona--comes natur'lly to Reba, with much less fuss 'n' feathers. Brent Barrett has bearded up to play her Frank Butler and fill the big boots of Tom Wopat....It seems that none of the critics "got" what David McCallum was doing in Time and Again. His dotty old fuddy-duddy was derived from Henry Travers, who played the bell-less angel Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life. McCallum says he's glad at last to be a member of that old character-actor club. Plus, he has the best song in Walter Edgar Kennon's score--"At the Theater," a Scott Joplin-like waltz two numbers into the show.

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GENTLEMEN STILL PREFER THIS BLONDE

Kathy Najimy
Kathy Najimy
Mae West did not go South when Kathy Najimy took over in Dirty Blonde. Far from it. She's really turning up the flame--and she has the "Go, girl!" blessings of the Tony-nominated original, Claudia Shear, who's bound for London to do the show (which she wrote) over there. "It's a lot easier to watch it than do it," Shear allowed at Najimy's opening. Another Blonde Tony nominee (the bald one), Kevin Chamberlin, attended as well on his night off from Seussical and seconded the out-of-body experience...."Rosie's really packin' 'em in," says Chamberlin of Seussical's second wind with Rosie O'Donnell in the role of the Cat in the Hat, originated by David Shiner. And what happens when Rosie leaves, an inquiring mind like Bryan Batt wants to know? He's the official Cat in the Hat understudy, and he's poised to pounce. But, as he says, "Just try to second-guess The Weisslers."...Don't expect a Broadway edition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame anytime soon. Dirty Blonde director James Lapine, who adapted and helmed the Disney project in Germany, says that "The show is too big to move. It's gigantic." Instead, he'll flex Muscle, his long-dormant musical with William Finn.

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NOW WE'RE COOKING!

The night last week when Barbara Cook played Carnegie Hall, her entrance alone was worth the price of admission. One was reminded of the great Judy Garland--not just because of the hysteria for great singing at the Hall, but because Cook sang (beautifully) "San Francisco" and "The Trolley Song." In resplendent vocal estate, she reprised much of the act she performed at Feinstein's at The Regency: Songs written by Stephen Sondheim and songs that great composer-lyricist has said he wishes he'd written. Cook's guest star was Malcolm Gets, and he was in fine voice--but let's just say that, when Barbara would sing a line such as "the music is sweet" (from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "The Song Is You") directly to him, it was clear that she was on a different (and higher) plane. I hope the upcoming DRG live recording gives us all of Babs, including the duets with Malcolm, but saves his solos for his CD.