Vincent Kartheiser in Slag Heap(Photo © Heather Laszlo)
Vincent Kartheiser in Slag Heap
(Photo © Heather Laszlo)
TOP OF THE HEAP
Vincent Kartheiser, who gained fame on the TV series Angel, is currently playing a far less saintly character on stage in Slag Heap. Why forsake Hollywood to tackle the role of a gay-for-pay British prostitute Off-Broadway? "I like taking risks," says Kartheiser. "That's what I find fulfilling in life. And there is some levity to the part, which I haven't been allowed to play in a while. I think most directors think I'm a serious guy."

A Los Angeles resident, Kartheiser is enjoying his time in New York and has made it a point to try out many of our restaurants. "The food is so great in the Village," he raves. "I love Blue Ribbon Sushi and Moustache, but I also try a lot of new places. I'm very adventurous -- even when it comes to my career, as I said. I'll do karaoke or kabuki, anything that comes my way and interests me."

One project that recently came his way was the film Alpha Dog, starring Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone and directed by Nick Cassavettes. Says Kartheiser, "I am a huge fan of John Cassavettes [Nick's dad]. I think I've seen all of his films, and Nick's following in his father's footsteps. He's a very strong director who really knows what he wants from his actors." In the film, Kartheiser plays a gang member who's involved in the drug trade. "I wish I could have had a huge role in the film just so I could spend more time on the set," he remarks. "It's not about wanting riches or fame; having tasted a little bit of each of those things, I'm much happier being a normal person."


BRANCHING OUT
Four major names of the 2004-2005 theater season -- Reckless star Debra Monk, Altar Boyz star Tyler Maynard, All Shook Up star Sharon Wilkins, and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis -- appear in Todd Solondz's much-talked about new film Palindromes...Composer Elizabeth Swados has just published My Depression: A Picture Book...Film and TV favorite Ernie Hudson will co-star alongside S. Epatha Merkerson and Billy Porter in the Second Stage production of Birdie Blue, beginning May 31.


CHECK AND BALANCE
John Patrick Shanley may pick up an OBIE on May 16, but it won't have a check attached. This year's OBIE committee, chaired by Village Voice critic Charles McNulty, has decided that the cash award that has traditionally gone to the author of the work named Best American Play (which will almost certainly be Shanley's Doubt) will go instead to the person named Best Emerging Playwright. "The time that writers need money is when they are struggling," says McNulty. "So this year's judges [who also include actress Daphne Rubin-Vega and playwright Paula Vogel] have decided to make sure that some not-yet-commercial dramatist can afford coffee and computer discs for at least one more year."


Stephen Schwartz, Alice Ripley, and Joseph Steinat the Baker's Wife party(Photo © Jerry Dalia)
Stephen Schwartz, Alice Ripley, and Joseph Stein
at the Baker's Wife party
(Photo © Jerry Dalia)
WIFE OF THE PARTY
The opening night party for the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Baker's Wife was attended by the show's creators, composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book writer Joseph Stein. The pair were full of praise for director Gordon Greenberg's sumptuous production and even higher praise for Alice Ripley, who gives a fiercely committed performance in the title role.

How did Ripley feel about her own work? "We were all extra careful tonight because of the occasion, but the show worked beautifully all week, and I think tonight went just as well," she told me. "It's really about Stephen. He's the one I need to please, and if he's happy, then I'm happy." Indeed, who could not be thrilled with her extraordinary rendition of "Meadowlark" -- the show's most famous song -- or not be impressed with the authentic French accent that Ripley uses throughout the performance? "That was Gordon's decision," she said. "We worked with a great dialect coach. The hardest thing was pulling back a little after learning it."

Also on hand for the festivities was Kurt Peterson, who played the roguish Dominique in the ill-fated 1976 production of the musical. (Big-voiced Max Von Essen is Dominique this go-round.) The still-handsome Peterson noted that there are some new lyrics in Dominique's big solo number "Proud Lady" as performed in the Paper Mill production. "Audiences didn't hear that song in the last three cities we played because it got cut, and it was only a fluke that it got onto the recording we made after the show closed at the Kennedy Center," he related. These days, Peterson is busy on the other side of the footlights: "I'm co-producing Stephen [Schwartz]'s new show, Captain Louie at the York Theatre. I've had one foot in producing for many years, but now I've decided to put both feet in."


ODD MAN OUT
Since he's one of the nicest people in the business -- not to mention the fact that he's a man -- it's kinda funny to see Eric Michael Gillett billed as one of the Timeless Divas at Helen's Hideaway Room. "When this show was first done at the Triad last year, it was all about women of a certain age," Gillett explains, "but then they started adding some men to the evenings -- some divos -- and I did the first of those shows. When the producers, Shari Upbin and Sandy Durrell, decided to do this version, they felt that the women on stage needed one man as a love object. That cracks me up, since it's the last way I think of myself. But there is a little flirting, a little sexual tension up there now, and that's a good thing."

Gillett says that the main reason he took the gig was that if afforded him the opportunity to work with two of his faves. "To spend every Sunday night at Helen's with Terry Burrell is my idea of heaven," he says. "And I'm also excited that, from May 1 through 15, LaTanya Hall -- my favorite singer in the world -- will be replacing Terry. I'm going to be in a state of perpetual arousal!"

The one-night-a-week gig allows the multi-talented Gillett to pursue other projects. "I just finished shooting a film called My Brother with Vanessa Williams, and we got to have some great one-on-one moments," he tells me. "I'm also one of the singing accountants in the film version of The Producers." On April 26, he will perform in a free concert at the Donnell Library in honor of the late, great musical director Dick Gallagher. And in June, Gillett will be doing another workshop of the Kander and Ebb musical The Skin of Our Teeth at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. "It's my fourth time playing one of the wooly mammoths," he laughs. "It's a great show, and I really hope for John's sake that it goes somewhere this time."


Donna McKechnie (right) with Chita Rivera(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Donna McKechnie (right) with Chita Rivera
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
SITTING PRETTY
If the Off-Broadway musical The Audience had wanted to be completely accurate, one if its 45 seats should probably have been occupied by a celebrity. Spotted attending shows at various theaters during one four-day stretch were Jimmy Smits and Wanda de Jesus at The Pillowman, Phylicia Rashad at All Shook Up, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins at Yesterday Came Too Soon, and Grant Shaud at A Picasso.

The stars have also been shining brightly in the city's cabarets. Tommy Tune, Donna Murphy, and Andrea Marcovicci were just a few of the luminaries who came out to enjoy Barbara Cook in the opening performance of her Tribute act at the Café Carlyle; Karen Ziemba, Karen Mason, and Michael Feinstein applauded Keely Smith in her Vegas '58 opening at Feinstein's at the Regency; and Chita Rivera, Bob Mackie, Lee Roy Reams, and Karen Akers were in the house for Donna McKechnie's debut at Le Jazz au Bar in a show titled Gypsy in My Soul.

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[To contact Brian Scott Lipton directly, e-mail him at BSL@theatermania.com.]