THE SOUND OF MUSICALS:
The Great American Musical was at high tide last week. In addition to Kiss Me, Kate charging away on all cylinders at their regular Broadway stands, the New York Philharmonic came up with a grandly winning Sweeney Todd starring George Hearn and a deliciously wicked Patti LuPone. Meanwhile, the Encores! series wrapped up Season No. Six with a smashing reprise of Wonderful Town; Donna Murphy, in the Rosalind Russell role, reclaimed the comedy mask she last flashed in 1991's Song of Singapore (eons before she got Tony-winning serious on us via Passion and The King and I). It was great to see Sondheim smiling again at the former and Comden & Green basking in the revived glory of the latter. . . . Also on the subject of Great American Musicals, we happen to know where our next fantastic revival is coming from: Hearn will put down his lethal razor and turn into "a wonderful guy" opposite Karen Ziemba's Nellie Forbush for a one-night (May 22) concert rendering of South Pacific to benefit Lincoln Center Theatre. Co-stars include Bill Murray as Luther Billis, Brent Barrett as Lieutenant Cable and Pat Suzuki as Bloody Mary--all under the direction of Jerry Zaks. Murray's latest screen role is the Shakespearean version of Luther Billis: Polonius (to Ethan Hawke's Hamlet).
IN A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN:
Talk about a Wild Party: Julia Hansen's downright dizzying Drama League blow-out at the Grand Hyatt's ballroom on May 5 was a perfect place for the star-struck. Broadway and Off-Broadway luminaries were arranged for maximum effect on a room-long double dais so that it was possible to get--in one long camera pan--the sense of a whole theatrical season. And everyone had a say. Ann Hampton Callaway, Swing! star and an accomplished songwriter in her own right, translated her thanks into a song and literally sang for her lunch. Rosemary Harris, radiating Class with a capital C, noted that her character in Waiting in the Wings has a scene where she makes a toast to "absent friends" and felt that this was the proper occasion to lift a glass to her show's late producer, Alexander H. Cohen. The room obliged readily. Harris also allowed herself some maternal pride and expressed her joy at being on the same dais with her Broadway-debuting daughter, Jennifer Ehle of The Real Thing. There were even some awards, voted by League members and hastily presented--to Contact for Best Play and to Kiss Me, Kate for Best Revival--and a Lifetime Achievement Award to the great Eileen Heckart, who, at 81, is retiring from the stage after her current run in The Waverly Gallery. She appears as a befogged art-gallery owner in the play, and her performance has reaped her every Best Actress award this side of the Tony; now she'll get one of those, too, by way of a special award for excellence in theater. Waverly was to close May 21, but a burst of ticket sales that followed its announced departure has prompted an extra week's extension. "I never realized that success could be synonymous with senility," cracked Heckart.
During their Cabaret run, Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh put their post-matinee downtime to productive use by writing themselves a screenplay called Anniversary Party. Now--or, rather, on July 17, in Hollywood--they will start filming in it, supported by a couple of Cabaret cohorts (John Benjamin Hickey and Denis O'Hare), True West's John C. Reilly and, maybe, Gwyneth....Congratulations to Barnard Hughes and Helen Stenborg, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on stage in Waiting in the Wings. At the curtain call, Simon Jones read a proclamation from the mayor saluting the couple. Later, backstage, Lauren Bacall presented them with a silver picture frame engraved with the names of the characters of all their current co-stars....The Hugheses did Oscar-winning films 30 years apart: He was the out-of-towner whom Joe Buck may have murdered in the Best Picture of 1969, Midnight Cowboy, and she (between Wit and Wings) played the motorcycle matriarch in the Best Live-Action Short Film of 1999, My Mother Dreams the Satan's Disciples in New York. The Drama Desk honors these two on May 14 with a shared Lifetime Achievement Award--plus Stenborg just copped a Tony nomination for Wings' daffiest and most difficult role: the firebug-in-residence.
Unlike The Student Prince he's playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse these days, hunky 6-foot-3 Brandon Jovanovich will bend the Sigmund Romberg edict a bit and wed the girl of his choice, Cara Lynn Welch, in Flagstaff, AZ, come August. She, too, is a classically trained singer. They met nine years ago, making beautiful music together at Black Bart's Steakhouse....Christiane Noll, who has to give up Prince Brandon in the show because she's a commoner (in fact, a tavern wench), will console herself with lots of symphony concerts--Minneapolis, Woodstock, Cape Cod--but the operetta revival has been such a pleasant experience for her that she's pining for a Paper Mill replay with Jovanovich. "I hope we become the next, you know, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy," she says....Eddie Bracken, swiping scenes right and left as a wine steward in the beer garden of The Student Prince, told the crew he just marked his 82nd (!) anniversary in show biz. At age four, in 1918, he debuted at the Lyceum Theatre in Astoria, L.I., duetting with "some girl by the name of Ethel Zimmerman." She dropped the "Zim" and zoomed to stardom. Even then, sez Eddie, she sang out. "Oh, loud. Loud."
ALL FOR ONE, AND ONE FOR ONE:
The last Hero on Broadway (in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Jim Stanek, will hang up his sword after he finishes his D'Artagnan duties in the San Jose edition of The Three Musketeers and wed Beth Miller on July 15 in Pittsburgh. This new edition of Dumas' swashbuckling classic has music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, authors of the Olivier Award-winning Honk! The Ugly Duckling...."Qu'est-que c'est, Honk?" deadpans Richard Frankel, who's taken over as producer of another musical retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen fable "The Ugly Duckling." This one is titled Everything's Ducky, and it comes from the Side Show team of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell. Last winter, the show won West Coast raves. Plans are to recast it and send it out on the road again; it will play Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Anaheim in the fall, then will head for San Francisco's Theatre in the Square the day after Thanksgiving. According to Frankel's timetable, Everything's Ducky should be hitting Broadway in the 2001-2002 season.
MARRY ME ON A MONDAY:
The Waverly Gallery author Kenneth Lonergan and Fuddy Meers actress J. Smith-Cameron plan to marry this summer--"probably in June," says she, and probably on a Monday (so their actor friends can attend)....If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You, the love story of Renée Taylor and Joe Bologna (written and performed by them), just opened at Toronto's Winter Garden and will reach New York by spring (after stops in Atlantic City, Phoenix, Florida, et al). "It's the story of how we met, how we fell in love, and what we were writing at different points of our life," explains Renée. "We act out all the comedy scenes. We were writing it as we were living it. It's sort of a celebration of love and comedy and marriage--35 years, it'll be."