On April 1-no foolin'-Angels in America finally takes flight as a film after almost a decade of false starts, blind alleys, and preproduction. Tony Kushner's sprawling stage saga of contemporary gay life, which was broken down into two big Broadway doses (Millennium Approaches in 1993 and Perestroika in 1994) and won a Best Play Tony both times, is quite wisely taking the Home Box Office miniseries route toward finding an audience rather than banking on a theatrical release.
The brilliant Mike Nichols, who recently took an Emmy for directing another Pulitzer Prize-winning play for TV (Margaret Edson's Wit), has corralled a powerhouse bunch of Oscar winners for Angels: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, and Robert Duvall. But he raided Broadway for the rest of the cast: Oklahoma!'s Patrick Wilson, Noises Off's Robin Weigert, and Topdog/Underdog's Jeffrey Wright are also in the film.
Wright is the only member of the Broadway cast(s) of Angels who will reprise his original, Tony Award-winning role: Belize, the swishy male nurse. Pacino, of course, will deliver the rabid Roy Cohn rampage that helped Ron Leibman win the Tony, but Stephen Spinella-the only performer in Broadway history to take home two Tonys (Featured Actor in 1993, Leading Actor in 1994) for the same role (Prior Walter)-has been replaced by Justin Kirk in the film. Mary-Louise Parker and Ben Shenkman, tentative young lovers in Proof, are being reteamed here as romantic rivals (for Patrick Wilson). Also involved is the great Wallace Shawn.
THE CALL OF THE NORTH (AND THE OPEN ROAD)
Meanwhile, up in Toronto, another TV movie with Broadway source material is about to start filming: it's Meredith Willson's ode to Iowa, The Music Man, with Tony winners Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth leading the big parade. Rumored for the roles of River City's First Couple, Mayor and Mrs. Shinn: Bill Irwin and Molly Shannon.
Broderick's year of con artistry in The Producers will serve him in good stead as he takes on Harold Hill and tries, presumably, to make us forget Craig Bierko. Steven Weber is now in full (Leo) bloom on Broadway in the part Broderick left behind and Jim Walton has been offered the role on the road in the company of Lewis J. Stadlen's Max Bialystock, Lee Roy Reams' Roger De Bris, Angie L. Schworer's Ulla, and Fred Applegate's Franz Liebkind.
TALES OF TWO CHRISTOPHERS
The long-time-no-hear-from Christopher Durang is quietly working on a new show-a musical, with composer Peter Melnick-called Adrift in Macao. And, yes, it does make reference to Jane Russell's old flick Macao. It should be ready for a reading soon.
Christopher Shinn is only now starting to become as well known here as he is in London, thanks to the production of his play Four at Manhattan Theatre Club. Though he is American, Shinn has had four of his plays done across the pond and a fifth will open on May 17 at the Royal Court: It's called Where Do We Live?, and it's his response to September 11. (He lives on the Lower East Side.) Shinn's response to the musical Rent-called Other People, about a group of lost twentysomethings-is his only work besides Four to have had a run here (in 2000, at Playwrights Horizons). Shinn prefers to premiere them in England. The Coming World just went up over there but the next one he expects to open Stateside-probably next season, at a theater to be announced-is What Didn't Happen? That play has been successfully workshopped at New York Stage & Film, at Vassar, and at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A.
CASTING BY CASSETTE
You know you're living in a technological age when you can point to shows from Sydney, Australia and Wichita, Kansas that somehow get to New York thanks to tapes. Tom Frye, an industrious denizen of Wichita, recently sent Lewis Allen a home video of himself playing the lead in a community theater version of a show that Allen produced-and wife Jay Presson Allen wrote-for Broadway, called Tru (short for Truman Capote, whom Robert Morse impersonated with Tony-winning precision in 1990). "[The tape] was marvelous, absolutely marvelous," admits Mrs. Allen, "so we brought Tom into town to see if I could work with him. Well, I worked with him for two or three hours and he was just like butter. What we're going to do is give him an Off-Broadway run, then send him on the road. We didn't want to say 'Direct from Wichita, Kansas!' Now, we can say 'Direct from New York!'"
And how did Prodigal find its way from Down Under to the York Theater Company? A subscriber right off the street came up to James Morgan, artistic director of the York, one day last spring and said: "A friend of mine knows some guys who wrote a musical that was done in Australia. Would you be interested in hearing it?" The always-game Mr. Morgan said "Sure" and, when the tape eventually arrived (by foot-runner via the Outback?), he gave it a listen and was properly floored. As it happens, Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank-the two twentysomethings who wrote the show, contemporizing and Aussie-ing it up from the biblical text-were already set to summer in New York, so a reading was arranged...and it went well enough to spur a full-fledged production at the York that continues through March 31.
Incidentally, Christian Borle, who portrays the Prodigal's boyfriend (I told you this was a contemporary adaptation), is in real life the boyfriend of Sutton Foster, a.k.a. Thoroughly Modern Millie. As for the Prodigal himself, Joshua Park sure has been busy in the year that has passed since his Broadway debut in the title role of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, wouldn't you say?