The Producers goes into its first song and dance at the St. James Theatre tomorrow (Wednesday). It will officially open on April 19, marking the Broadway return of Mel Brooks after an intermission of 38 years--which should prove that "you don't have to do it to love it." Brooks has a phenomenal musical-comedy recall and a genuine feel for "the Broadway pit sound" which is echoed in his pastiche score, and he came by both without much experience on the Main Stem.
"The last thing I did on Broadway was All American," Brooks said recently. "Josh Logan directed, and I learned an awful lot about what not to do. The big mistake in All American was casting. Ray Bolger was a brilliant talent, but he was certainly not a little Jewish immigrant from Romania who sings a great song called 'Melt Us.' He was not that guy. I had Jan Peerce in mind. I said, 'That thrilling voice--if he can act a little bit, it'll be thrilling.' One day Josh said, 'I got him.' I said, 'You got Jan?' He said, 'No, Ray Bolger.' I said, 'The scarecrow? The guy from Wizard of Oz? You think he's the right guy?' He said, 'Oh, he's perfect for Professor Fodorski.' " The show ran 80 performances.
CRIMES AND MIS(SY)DEMEANORS
When they reported to rehearsal on Friday, Amy Ryan and Enid Graham found themselves with a new sister: Mary Catherine Garrison had suddenly replaced Missy Yager in the upcoming Second Stage revival of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart. Also new to the Crimes cast is Julia Murney, Off-Broadway's amazing young girl on the flying trapeze (from MTC's The Wild Party, A Class Act, and Time and Again). Quips Murney, a Broadway-size talent who's yet to get there: "Someone said the Drama Desk ought to nominate me for Most Ubiquitous."
BIG DEE IN HOUSTON
Slim, skyscraperish Dee Hoty will be tooling around Houston this summer in a wheelchair, playing Blanche to Millicent Martin's Jane in the world-premiere of the new Lee Pockriss-Hal Hackady musical What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Henry Farrell has based the musical book on his own novel, and the piece is said to be less campy than the popular 1962 movie version which starred Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. David Taylor, who just got a world tour of Cats up on all fours, will direct.
Performances begin at Houston's Opera House on the fifth of July, and the show opens officially five days later. Choreographer Dan Siretta, who gets his Tony nominations for exclamatory shows (Whoopee! and Oh, Kay!), will be pressing for new punctuation. The design team for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? includes Eduardo Sicongco for costumes, Richard Winkler for lighting, and Paper Mill's Michael Anania for sets.
A REVUE PASSING IN REVIEW
If you crossed Tuscaloosa's Calling Me But I'm Not Going with That Was the Week That Was, you'd have I Heart New York at Don't Tell Mama, a topical revue in a perpetual state of change. Songs go in and songs go out, as the world turns. Diana Buldarelli, who did the words and music, could stand a little help on the ballads (they stop the show cold). But the cast is good--whether it's Mandy Peek Jensen pantomiming balalaika-playing or John Hartmann nailing Rudy Giuliani--and, when they're funny, the show is funny. A sharp director could give it the edge it needs. Performances have been added through April 9.
MORE THAN A TOUCH OF CLASS
A class flack for A Class Act was Bill Schelble, who corralled a starry group of A Chorus Line originals to give proper glitter to the opening of Ed Kleban's second Broadway musical. The first Bobby from Buffalo, Thommie Walsh, came in from Ann-Margret's tour of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (which he's directing, to rave reviews). Also on hand was Donna McKechnie, the original, Tony-winning Cassie, who just wrapped Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland. And sitting next to her was Baayork Lee, the original Connie, who just directed a Gypsy at the Signature Theater in Arlington, VA. "We hope to do a version together some day," says Donna. (Next Rose's turn: Judy Kaye in Seattle, under the direction of When Pigs Fly's Mark Waldrop, who steered Betty Buckley to distinction in the role last year at the Paper Mill Playhouse.)
A Class Act's opening-night virgin (there was no sacrifice!) was, of all people, the spoofy cauldron-stirrer of Forbidden Broadway, Gerard Alessandrini, who loved the show and "loved the free food afterward" at Tavern on the Green. (Sweet...and in one so young!) As is his wont, Alessandrini will be working in a satirical mode for Lehman's Children: He's one of several notables who'll reminisce about and literally sing the praises of musical-theater guru Lehman Engel--a character in A Class Act and a mentor in the lives of Alessandrini, Kleban, and numerous other contemporary composers and lyricists--on April 2 at 8pm at Merkin Concert Hall (129 West 67th). There will be musical testimonials by Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Maury Yeston, Michael John LaChiusa, Carol Hall, Doug Katsaros and Richard Engquist, David Spencer, Pat Cook, and Linda Kline.
DEPARTING CLASS ACTS
Lee Winston, 60, suffered a fatal heart attack on Saturday while attending the Westchester Film Festival. He was there in conjunction with a feature film, Chelsea's Chappaqua. Winston had opera and theater credits that stretched back over 35 years, starting with the Lincoln Center revival of Show Boat which docked at the State Theatre in 1966. A favorite performer of Alan Jay Lerner, he was cast in the lyricist's last two Broadway offerings, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Carmelina. A service will be held on March 22 in the Theater at St. Clements where, last September, he and his companion, actress P.J. Nelson, appeared as the heroine's parents in the first New York revival of Bloomer Girl. (Those roles are being played this weekend in the City Center Encores! presentation of the show by Philip Bosco and Kathleen Chalfant.) Winston and Nelson met as River City denizens in the 1979 Dick Van Dyke tour of The Music Man, which also featured a very young Christian Slater as Winthrop....Bosco is one of the scheduled speakers for the Werner Klemperer memorial at the Broadhurst at 11am on Thursday, March 22. Others include Regina Resnik, Patrick Quinn, Tammy Grimes, John Simon, and John Anderson. Klemperer, 80, was best-known as Colonel Klink of TV's Hogan's Heroes but also had extensive film and theater credits--most notably, Stanley Kramer's big-screen Judgment at Nuremberg....On Friday, yet another venerable character actor, Richard Woods, will be remembered at the Irish Rep (132 West 22nd) by the likes of Marian Seldes, Page Johnson, Frances Sternhagen, director Jack O'Brien, Betty Miller, and Charlotte Moore. Woods appeared in Sail Away, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, Coco, The Old Boy, and The Royal Family, among many others.