Fans of the rock singer Meat Loaf (and you know who you are) have a rare opportunity this week to see both of his singing partners from his smash 1978 album Bat Out Of Hell on stage: Karla DeVito is starring opposite husband Robby Benson in Open Heart at the Cherry Lane until April 25 while Ellen Foley can be seen in Hercules in High Suburbia, a new musical adaptation of Euripides's Heracles that's playing at LaMama through May 2.
Foley, a former rock star, TV star (Night Court), and Broadway leading lady (Beehive, Me and My Girl), has worked rather infrequently over the past 15 years; instead, she has been focusing on her husband and two sons, ages 13 and 10. Why return to the stage now? "Mary Fulham, who is an old friend and former collaborator, wrote this piece for me," she explains. "Which means I didn't have to go through the terror of auditioning."
According to Foley, there are many similarities between her and her character Megara, Hercules' wife. "Some of the dialogue is taken directly from my own life, like screaming at my two sons to get off the computer," she says. "When we first started working on the piece, Megara was a little too much like Susie Essman's character on Curb Your Enthusiasm, so we decided to tone her down a little. When Hercules does come home, you get to see her softer side."
That's fine with Foley since she also gets to play Iris, one of the aptly named Furies who pay a visit to Hercules. "I get to do a Zoe Caldwell thing," she tells me. "In fact, Iris reminds me of the Witch from Into The Woods, which I did on Broadway. I just love playing those scenery-chewing characters!"
IT'S TONI TIME
Like Ellen Foley, Toni DiBuono "retired" in the mid-'90s to take care of her family: her husband (and current Wonderful Town co-star) Michael McGrath and their daughter Kathleen. Here's another connection between the two actresses: Bat Out Of Hell was produced by songwriter Todd Rundgren and DiBuono starred in Up Against It, Rundgren's short-lived 1989 musical at The Public Theater. For those who missed it, which is basically everybody, a few selections from the show as sung by DiBuono and fellow original cast members Alison Fraser and Roger Bart will be featured in Todd Rundgren & Friends, a benefit to be held at Joe's Pub on April 24.
"Joe Orton had originally written it as a movie for The Beatles but he was murdered the day he was supposed to deliver the final script," says DiBuono. "Many years later, Joe Papp thought it would make a great Broadway musical and hired Todd to write the score. But, in the end, no one really knew what to do with it. It's really a silly piece. I played Connie Boon, this dominatrix type. As a recovering Catholic, it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do: stand on stage and grab Roger's crotch and whip people."
Amazingly enough, DiBuono will also be revisiting another of her 1989 projects this week: The Two Svengalis, a quirky two-hander about an unusual musical act that the actress wrote with Fred Barton, will play at Don't Tell Mama on April 21, 22, 29 and 30. Barton was her co-star in the original company of Forbidden Broadway (which earned DiBuono a Drama Desk Award) and often accompanied her on auditions. When she was rejected for a national tour of Oliver!-- in part because she lied about her height, which proved to be an obstacle for the tour's Fagin, former Monkees star Davy Jones) -- Barton found a way to soften the blow. "As soon as we left the audition, Fred said we should just write our own musical," says DiBuono. "So we stood outside for about an hour and a half and actually hammered out the whole plot. Then we wrote it a month later."
This past Monday saw two star-studded events. The Food for Thought series at the National Arts Club presented "Six Unpublished Scenes from Streetcar" starring the brilliant Judith Light as Blanche DuBois and filmdom's Matthew Modine as Stanley Kowalski. In attendance were Oscar winner Patricia Neal and Tony nominee Lois Smith. At Mama Rose's that night, Christine Pedi put on a special performance of her enchanting cabaret show Wonderful Songs: The Songs of Comden & Green for the great lady herself, Betty Comden. Joining the legendary lyricist in the audience were Cy Coleman, Maria Friedman, Peter Howard, Joe Franklin, Steve Ross, and Klea Blackhurst.
This coming Monday, April 19, the star quotient gets even higher. At noon, the American Theater Wing will celebrate the life of the late Isabelle Stevenson with Alec Baldwin hosting and with entertainment provided by Nathan Lane, Tovah Feldshuh, Kevin Kline, and Elaine Stritch. That evening, Kline will star in a reading of Michael Weller's new play Moomtaj at Fez to benefit the Hypothetical Theater Company. Across town, The Revelation Theater Company will present a reading of Ray Cochran's new play Endangered Species starring Christine Ebersole, Michael Mastro, and Leslie Jordan.
On the musical front on Monday, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Michael McKean, LaChanze, and Denis O'Hare are just some of the stars who will sing the songs they never thought they could in the Miscast benefit for Manhattan Class Company at Bridgewater's. And Scott Siegel's "Broadway by the Year" series at The Town Hall salutes 1949 with performances by Karen Ziemba, Marla Schaffel, Cady Huffman, Robert Westenberg, and other nifty folks.
TALKING THE TALK
What do playwrights and actors really think of their own work? This Sunday night at Ars Nova, Theatermania's David Finkle interviews the controversial playwright Neil LaBute, whose new work The Distance From Here has just begun performances at The Duke Theater. On April 26, actress Dorothy Lyman and author Betty Fussell will discuss the play My Kitchen Wars at the Lincoln Triangle Barnes & Noble, while the 92nd Street Y will host a panel discussion on Broadway's Sixteen Wounded featuring playwright Eliam Kraiem and stars Judd Hirsch and Omar Metwally.
Doug Wright's mantle is getting very crowded. Having already won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama, his play I Am My Own Wife was named Outstanding Broadway/Off-Broadway production at the GLAAD Media Awards in New York on Monday night. Tony Award winner Cherry Jones was also honored at the event with the organization's Vito Russo Award.