Ask Julie Halston a question, and it's no surprise you get both a funny and a serious answer. So why exactly did she and pal Donna Daley write Monologues for Show-Offs, a collection of 74 new actor-ready pieces? "I was out in L.A. doing the TV series The Class, and as a New Yorker, when you get hit at 6:30 every morning with the sun, you either become an underwearless drug addict or you write a book," she deadpans.
But seriously, folks. "So many people I know, from casting directors to actors, are always talking about how they need to hear and do fresh and new material; it's not like the old days when you had to audition with something from a published play," she says. "And these days, you have to get people's attention very quickly to even be considered for a part. So we came up with these short pieces that can show an actor's range or personality to their best advantage, whether they're an older African-American man or gay Asian woman. Not all of our ideas worked entirely; some of them will actually make better scenes -- so we're saving them for a second book."
Halston's fans --who are legion -- should not worry that her newfound vocation means she's given up acting. Far from it. At Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Birdland on Monday, April 21, she'll even perform her favorite monologue from the book. "It's called 'Keep Walking' and it was inspired by this woman who was a judge on the British version of Project Runway. I remember laughing so hard when I watched her," she notes. "But a man can do the monologue too -- it can be very Tim Gunn."
After that, her next scheduled live gig is her good pal Charles Busch's Shanghai Moon, which plays Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre in June. "I'm doing the part originally done by Becky Ann Baker, though Charles has tweaked it for me," she notes. "I had actually never read the full script before we decided to do this, so it's like working on a whole new play -- which is really more fun than wondering if I can remember my lines from something we did back in 1990."
Finally, the actress is also gearing up for the hoopla surrounding the release of the film version of Sex and the City on May 30, in which she reprises her role of Bitsy Von Muffling. "I had no idea if Bitsy was going to be in the movie, since I was only in a couple of episodes of the show," she says. "But I was out in the Hamptons last year when I got an email from [writer] Michael Patrick King asking if I wanted to be in it. I get to wear brilliant clothes and work with Sarah Jessica Parker, who is the classiest treasure in New York, and the rest of those great ladies. So I thought, "where's the negative?" she says. "The only thing that worries me now is the premiere, since I am not sure I want to see myself on a 20-foot movie screen. I'm afraid I'm going to look like Martha Graham in her final days."
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES
Obie Award winner Ty Jones says he was originally inspired to write Emancipation -- his new play about the famous 19th-century slave Nat Turner -- by a chance meeting with a future Oscar winner. "I met Matt Damon at this New Year's Eve party while he was starting to write Good Will Hunting -- I was still in graduate school -- and it gave me the idea to write something that I could act in," he says. "Originally, it was a screenplay, and I entered it in many competitions and even became a finalist at Sundance, but when I was working as an actor at the Eugene O'Neill Center, we did a reading of it, and someone from the Lark Theatre urged me to make it a play. I think they were right, but I'd still love to see it on film."
Over the past decade while working on the show, Jones has done copious research on both Turner and the subject of slavery. "I must have read 15 different books, but the person who really put the icing the cake was Mark Harding, who was the main researcher for the PBS series Slavery in America. I met him around two years ago and he's been championing it ever since. The play isn't just about Nat Turner, it's about this period of history that really changed this country."
Jones is particularly excited about having the show performed at the historic Audubon Ballroom. "It really gave us the freedom to create the space we wanted and make it feel almost environmental, though we're not recreating a slave ship from 1831," he notes. "But the coolest thing is to have this 60-foot-long mural of Malcolm X, who had the same tradition of liberation and resistance as Nat. We really couldn't have asked for a better place."
HEY, MR. PRODUCER
At age 33, producer Adam Epstein is not only a Tony Award winner (for Hairspray) -- but he's hoping for his fifth nomination for the new musical Cry-Baby, based on the John Waters cult film of the same name, which officially opens on April 24 at the Marquis Theatre. "I'm really shepherding the ship here and so I'm exhausted and euphoric at the same time, and I'm trying not to lose my objectivity," he says. "What I really like about this piece is that it's not preachy or pretentious, though there's still some earnestness and sincerity. We've been doing a lot of work, including taking jokes out and then putting them back in, because the new ones feel even flatter. In the end, I want audiences to have fun."
Meanwhile, Epstein already has two more musical projects on his horizon: a new Broadway production of Godspell, starring Gavin Creel as Jesus, scheduled for late summer or early fall, and the original musical Ever After, based on the Drew Barrymore film, to open sometime in 2009 with Tony winner Doug Hughes at the helm. "I hired Doug because he shared my vision of this piece as open-hearted and sentimental," he says. "I really believe in finding the right director for every piece. I loved what I saw Daniel Goldstein do with Godspell at Paper Mill, and I chose Mark Brokaw for Cry-Baby because I knew with the spoof-centric nature of the show, I needed someone who could keep it grounded."
While Epstein hasn't ruled out producing another drama, he says the economics of Broadway now demand superstar-driven revivals. "I would've done Equus [with Daniel Radcliffe] in a second. But for the most part, producing a play now means putting in the same amount of blood, sweat, and tears as a musical -- if less money -- for a lot less reward. You can't really overcome bad reviews with a play, and there's a lot less touring potential. I'm not trying to be a philanthropist. As Woody Allen used to say, 'if this wasn't meant to be business, it would have been called show show.'"
A GRAND NIGHT FOR GIVING
Rabbit season...duck season. Nope: benefit season is upon us, and it's a busy one! Martha Plimpton and Jonathan Cake will be honored by the New Globe Theatre at their annual benefit on April 21; Laura Osnes, Alice Ripley, and Daphne Rubin-Vega will among the stars for Second Stage Theatre's first Pro-Am Night at the Hammerstein Ballroom on April 21; Bernadette Peters will join ABT dancers Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes and the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company for their 40th Anniversary gala, Prelude to a Dance, at the Hudson Theatre on April 23; Sutton Foster will be honored at The Keen Company 2008 Gala at Theatre Row on April 27; and Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham and Emmy winner Kristen Johnston will host the Atlantic Theater Company 2008 Spring Gala at the Rainbow Room on April 28.
Heading into next month, Rosie Perez will co-host The Nuyorican Poets Cafe's Third Millenium Celebration at The Town Hall on May 3; Lisa Kron will appear at the LGBT Cancer Project's Hot for Health benefit at La MaMa on May 6; the hilarious Sarah Silverman will headline the Project A.L.S. Benefit at Columbia University's Lerner Hall on May 9; producer Douglas S. Cramer will be honored at the annual City Center Spring Benefit on May 12; the Obie-winning 13P company will present an evening of new musical works entitled Undone on May 13 at Joe's Pub; the York Theatre Company will hold their NEO4 Benefit Concert on May 18; and Roger Rees and Lauren Flanigan will headline the Collegiate Chorale Annual Benefit on May 19.
Outside of the Big Apple, Robert Prosky will be honored at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre Gala on April 26; ,Gary Sinise and Joan Allen will take part in Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Gala 2008 on May 3; Marvin Hamlisch will headline From Broadway to Brunswick, the State Theatre of New Jersey's Benefit Gala on May 3; Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis will host Boston Huntington Theatre's Spotlight Specatcular on May 5; Rachel York will headline Boston's New Rep Gala on May 6; Lillias White will be the featured performer at Baltimore's Centerstage 22nd Annual Benefit Gala on May 10; Family Guy stars Alex Borstein and Seth McFarlane will headline Freakin' Sweet at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre on May 10; Kathleen and Rob Marshall will receive the Pittsburgh CLO's Richard Rodgers Award on May 10; Beth Fowler and Philip Bosco will star in a performance of Love Letters to benefit Oradell, New Jersey's Bergen County Players on May 18; and David Yazbek will perform a benefit concert for Nyack's Riverspace on May 22.