THEM 'BONES, THEM 'BONES "I'd walk across fire for Susan Stroman," declares an unblinking Michael Duran, who fleetingly cuts a Grant Wood figure in Stroman's high-struttin' hit revival of The Music Man. Happily, fire-walking wasn't required--but trombone-playing was: The whole cast had to learn how to play that instrument in order to produce one of the grandest finales in Broadway history. Not an easy assignment, the trombone.
"Dear God in Heaven, not easy at all," sighs the show's Mrs. Squires (Ann Brown). "It was an hour and a half every day in rehearsal, and we'd scream and moan, but the end result is certainly worth it!" Grand as it is, however, you won't be seeing it on the Tony Awards show this year. "They wanted the finale for the telecast, but we turned them down," admits producer Michael David. "Unless you invest in those people--unless you know who are in those costumes--it's not the same. It might as well be a bad high school band, so we said no."
On opening night of The Music Man, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Bert Fink went up to Stroman and proclaimed "River City Tonight, Kansas City Tomorrow"--an allusion to "Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City"--and darned if it ain't so: Trevor Nunn's much-applauded London revival of Oklahoma!--which Stroman choreographed--will finally make it to Broadway in November. "We just started casting the American company," Stroman says. "It's all from scratch." Again, too, Stroman is pushing the envelope, insisting (unlike Agnes DeMille) that the actors playing Curly, Laurey, and Jud learn to do their own dream ballet.
The Music Man merely seconded late in the season what her work on Contact made apparent at the start: that Stroman is the choreographer of the year. The Outer Critics Circle, the Drama Desk, and the Tony committee gave her double nominations for directing and choreographing both productions, but it was TDF's Astaire Awards that displayed real wisdom: They honored her choreography in both shows as well as a representative Stroman dancer from each: Deborah Yates, who plays The Girl in the Yellow Dress in Contact, and Clyde Alves, The Boy Who Leads the Band in The Music Man. Theirs are breakout performances, both up against some strong, seasoned competition.
"Dancers are the champion athletes of our business," saluted Stroman in her acceptance speech. Then, she started batting back the tears. Between these two professional highs, Stroman experienced the death of her husband and longtime collaborator, director Mike Ockrent. For the first time in public, she expressed thanks to these shows "for saving my life."
Even megastars have been known to mist up in public, as Angela Lansbury proved at her New Dramatists tribute. Unlike movies and television, where she has also toiled (sans Oscar and Emmy!), Broadway has showered her with prizes. This is where the best roles are and where the friendship is, she said. "And that"--cue the tear ducts--"is why I want to come back." Lansbury and Gwen Verdon, with four Tonys each, are in a league by themselves (although Audra McDonald could catch up with them this year via her fourth Broadway show, Marie Christine).
Lansbury is planning to pay Broadway a little visit--a musicalization of Frederich Durrenmatt's play The Visit. If she were to win a Tony for her role, she would break that tie with Verdon and thus equal the all-time record for acting Tonys (five) currently held by Julie Harris. The artisans who are crafting Lansbury's comeback next season--director Frank Galati, librettist Terrence McNally, and tunesmiths John Kander and Fred Ebb--were prominent in attendance at the Lansbury lovefest, as were legends like Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince, and "Bosom Buddy" Bea Arthur.
The Visit is to go into rehearsal in mid-October and open on Broadway in February. Stuart Howard is currently casting, drawing heavily on the excellent group that was assembled for the show's workshop. Mary Louise Wilson and Ronn Carroll are said to be assured spots, but Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams (who are co-producing the show with Barry Brown) are reluctant to confirm that Lansbury's leading man will be Philip Bosco. Bosco, who says he's still in negotiation for the role but talks as if his participation is a foregone conclusion, admits, "I had to be dragged into doing this in the first place since I'm not a professional singer; but the things I have to sing, I enjoy."
Bosco still warmly recalls seeing Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne do the original production of The Visit at a matinee in Washington back in the late '50s. In fact, he remembers being thrown out of the theater: "An actor friend of mine, Michael Lipton, and I were standing at the back because we couldn't get seats, and we were outraged that people started walking out during the curtain call. We started yelling at them, 'How impolite. Two of the greatest actors in our history--how can you walk out?' And management asked us to leave."
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, AUGUST?
"Love, duty, betrayal, forgiveness, redemption..." So says August Wilson when you ask him what his next play, King Hedley II, is about. "It takes place in Pittsburgh [as do all of Wilson's plays] in 1985, and I use some of the characters from Seven Guitars, 36 years later," he amplifies. It bows in Boston on May 24 and should be on Broadway next April.
Meanwhile, Wilson's Jitney serves up about as full a dramatic meal as Off-Broadway can provide. It has been deemed "the best new play of the year" (Drama Critics Circle award), performed by "the best ensemble" (Drama Desk and Obie Award), under Marion McClinton's "best direction" (Obie Award) on David Gallo's "best set" (Drama Desk Award, Obie Award).
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who collected his Tony for Wilson's Seven Guitars, expects to be back on Broadway next season in the play he did to such acclaim last summer at Williamstown: A Raisin in the Sun. He says he almost made it this season via the McCarter's critically cheered revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, in which he executed Joe Mantegna's Tony-winning role, opposite Charles Durning. "It was a blessing to work with Durning," says Santiago-Hudson.
"HAVE SHOW, WILL TRAVEL"
These days, the above is the motto of Mark Waldrop, director-lyricist of When Pigs Fly. His specialty is starting up shows in other cities, then pointing them toward Gotham. No sooner did he get up and going in Minneapolis Adventures in Love (songs by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, book by the Maybe Baby, It's You duo of Charlie Shanian and Shari Simpson) than Waldrop dropped himself off in Springfield, Massachusetts to helm Pete and Keely starring George Dvorsky and Sally Mayes. Waldrop contributed lyrics to the original tunes of Patrick Brady, but mostly the show leans on Golden Oldies of the '50s and '60s, arranged by Brady. Jim Hindman, a Forever Plaid alum, did the book. "It's sorta 'Forever Plaid Meets I Do! I Do!'," says Waldrop.
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