"WHEN I'M WITH A PISTOL, I SPARKLE LIKE A CRYSTAL"

Crystal Bernard
Crystal Bernard
Is there life after Reba McEntire? That's what all of Broadway is asking. Will Annie Get Your Gun, which has been enjoying a remarkable, award-winning Reba-juvenation, call it a run when the country music star takes her leave June 22? The answer is no--but it will require wings (as in the TV series, Wings) to carry the revival further. Crystal Bernard, that show's Helen Chappel, has been tapped to take up Annie Oakley's shootin' irons and keep the musical afloat. Talk about a hard act to follow!

Help, however, is on the way: The Weisslers have roped Tom Wopat, who Frank Butlered for Bernadette Peters, and are bringing him back from the road company of the show to co-star with Bernard on Broadway. Brent Barrett, the current Butler in residence, will leave with Reba--but he won't go far. Just a block, in fact, to Chicago, where he will take over his old shyster-lawyer stand from Chuck Cooper, the Tony-winning pimp from The Life.

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MAJOR CASTING

Angela's nephew, David Lansbury, has been cast in the Roundabout's Major Barbara as the brutish Bill Walker, the role that made a star of the late Robert Newton. And Jenny Sterlin, who was so good as the maid in Design for Living, will be Rummy Mitchens. Cherry Jones has the title role; David Warner and Dana Ivey are her parents, and Denis O'Hare is her suitor. James Gale, Dennis Holmes, Rick Holmes, and Kelly Hutchinson are also featured. Dan Sullivan, a Tony-contender for Proof, is directing.

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BATT OUT OF HELL

On Sunday, hours after he was freed from Seussical servitude, Cat-in-the-Hat understudy Bryan Batt emceed Covers On II, the American Theatre Wing's follow-up to last year's celebration of Broadway understudies and standbys at Sardi's. As the title indicates, entertainment was provided by the seldom-seen: 42nd Street's Meredith Patterson and Shonn Wiley (happily married in real life); Follies' Michael Scott; A Class Act's Ann Van Cleave; The Full Monty's Jay Douglas, Matthew Stocke, and Jimmy Smagula; and The Rocky Horror Show's James Stovall. These folks are comers!

As it turned out, Batt lasted longer than any other Cat-in-the-Hall. Indeed, the Playbill for Seussical revealed The Incredible Shrinking David Shiner during the show's brief run. On opening night, it showed the actor with eyes at ground level, peering out of a city manhole. After he was fired, only his hat emerged from the manhole. By closing night, even the hat had been airbrushed away and nothing but steam could be seen escaping from the manhole--hardly a fetching image for a happy musical.

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THE PLACE TO BE

Phillip Officer is Hoagy-ing the stage at Arci's Place, leafing lightly through the Carmichael songbook through Sunday. In support, on violin, is an octogenarian jazz legend: Johnny Frigo, 85. Next up (May 29-June 9), Arci's owner John Miller will salute the Tonys with a series of one-night-stands showcasing winners and contenders you rarely see in sit-down club engagements, starting with Donna McKechnie, Priscilla Lopez, Pamela Myers, and Tsidii Le Lloka.

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POLLY THINKS PINK

Polly Bergen didn't win the Drama Desk Award, but she's still here. In fact, minutes after losing in her category to The Producers' Cady Huffman, Bergen bounced back with a blistering rendition of her Follies showstopper "I'm Still Here," demonstrating what her Carlotta Campion character is all about: surviving with Style.

"I'm Still Here" is a three-act drama, layered in nuance, and Bergen mines it for max effect. She credits the author, Stephen Sondheim, for shepherding her through some secret subtext. Such as: "Been called a pinko / Commie tool, / Got through it stinko / By my pool. / I should have gone to an acting school, / That seems clear. / Still, someone said, 'She's sincere,' / So I'm here." Bergen originally interpreted the "acting school" line as self-deprecation, but Sondheim had a darker intention: "He explained to me that had I [Carlotta] acted better in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, I would not have had to sit by my pool stinko; but the fact is, there was someone on the committee who said, 'She's sincere,' so I'm here. I'd never have made the connection in a million years."

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Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft
Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft
HARD-TO-BEAT MEL

A perceived backlash notwithstanding, expect Mel Brooks' mighty musical The Producers to make off with an even dozen Tony Awards--one more trophy than the record number of Drama Desk Awards it just scored. Insiders are saying the only Producers people who'll lose Tonys are Matthew Broderick, Brad Oscar, and Roger Bart--and that's because they'll be topped by other Producers performers: Nathan Lane over Broderick in the leading actor category, Gary Beach over Bart and Oscar among the featured actor hopefuls.

The show has been on this runaway course since its first full, euphoric run-through in New York. At that time, Brooks was asked what Tony he'd want if the gods granted him just one. Even then, he could only get it down to two. "Unselfishly, I'd say Best Musical," he replied, "because that does everything for everybody and it's good for the show. But if it was going to be one Tony for me, I'd say for the score. Because they know I wrote the movie, they know I'm part of the book. If I'm to be selfish, I'd say the score."

Any prizes that Brook does pick up for The Producers will make him the biggest award-winner in his home. Wife Anne Bancroft has a Tony (Two for the Seesaw), an Oscar (The Miracle Worker) and an Emmy (Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man). Mel has a different combination: an Emmy (for writing The Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca-Carl Reiner-Howard Morris Special), a Grammy (The 2,000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000), and an Oscar (The Producers). "So there's only one I don't have," he says. "That's all I need. Mention it, and maybe they'll give it to me because they want to complete my set."

Though his Tony win might finally drive Bancroft to a recording studio in quest of a Grammy--"I think she's a terrific singer"--her husband is pretty sure that she won't do Broadway. "You know when she'll come back? When Broadway does what they do in London: Repertory, where you can act five times a week and another show covers the other three. She loves that. She loves the stage. But she doesn't want to do eight shows a week."