ARIES ASCENDING

Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Last Thursday was a day rich in promise for Broadway composers born on March 22. Kennedy Center officials laid siege to Sardi's to post ambitious plans for six consecutive Stephen Sondheim musicals during the spring and summer of 2002, directed by Christopher Ashley (Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd), Mark Brokaw (A Little Night Music), Sean Mathias (Company) and Eric Schaeffer (Passion, Sunday in the Park With George)--plus a Tokyo edition of Pacific Overtures, which could conceivably come to Broadway. And while this was going on, unbeknownst to the assembled press, Andrew Lloyd Webber was right next door, laying plans for his B'way comeback. He was spotted exiting the Helen Hayes Theatre and was asked if he was casing the place for his By Jeeves. Lord Lloyd Webber danced around the question with "You never can tell." (Translation: "I can't say a thing till Hershey Felder leaves George Gershwin Alone.")

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GREENLIGHTING GREENBERG

Another fellow in comeback mode is Richard Greenberg, whose work hasn't been seen locally since his Pulitzer Prize also-ran Three Days of Rain. Quite a bit of his time was taken up with adapting George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's The Royal Family of Broadway into a William Finn musical, only to have the book shot down by Kaufman's daughter. Now--even with a new and improved (or at least approved) rewrite by James Lapine--the project appears to be mysteriously stalled. And Greenberg's take on Collier Brothers-type clutterbugs, The Dazzle, which the Drama Dept. was planning to do with Peter Frechette and Reg Rogers, is no longer twinkling and shining on the company's agenda.

But we're due for a double dose of Greenberg in the upcoming season. His adaptation of August Strindberg's The Dance of Death will be getting a Broadway whirl from the above-mentioned Sean Mathias this fall, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren (on top of everything else, they almost rhyme). Also, Lincoln Center has laid claim to Greenberg's Everett Beekin, which director Evan Yionoulis (Three Days of Rain and Manhattan Theater Club's current Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine) got up last year at South Coast Rep; she'll repeat the chore here. The title character is a fictional pharmaceutical tycoon, and the play focuses on two families in the 1940s and the 1990s as they intersect on the stage.

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CONTINUED CONTACT

Aside from preparing the upcoming Thou Shalt Not, winning the 2001 Astaire award, and somehow staying sane in the midst of post-Producers madness, the incredible Susan Stroman just prepped the national company of Contact in San Francisco. I stuck my head in during the first week, a technically touchy time for any company just starting performances, but it was all there. The cast is headed by Alan Campbell (moody and moving as our hero in need of contact), Meg Howrey (sweet and touching in the Karen Ziemba role), and the very brunette Holly Cruikshank (extensions for days) as The Girl In The Yellow Dress.

What? No blonde, you say? You got a problem with that? Smart lady, Stroman: Contact's dreamgirl can be anything we want her to be. In fact, the entire company is cast smartly, with a corps including alumni of such dance companies as Paul Taylor (Andrew Asnes) and Hubbard Street (Danielle Jolie). They're heading to Los Angeles and then across the country over the next year. What a great tour this is going to be!

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UNKNOWN VARIABLES

Lincoln Center's proposed Broadway transfer of Ten Unknowns, which sold out its run at the Mitzi Newhouse, is now up in the air and going through some changes. Not counting his adaptation of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, which opens October 4 at the Ambassador Theatre, Jon Robin Baitz will be making his belated Main Stem bow with Ten Unknowns after distinguished work Off-Broadway (The Substance of Fire, Three Hotels, A Fair Country). He's currently reworking the piece, but now he'll have to work it into the availability of his original director, Dan Sullivan, who is much in demand since winning the Tony. (Sullivan is the one who "had nothing to do with The Producers"--and everything to do with Proof.)

Star-wise, Ten Unknowns will have a new constellation. Donald Sutherland won't make the move uptown. Nor will E.R.-alum Julianna Margulies, despite the Lortel Award she won for her performance. Justin Kirk (Love! Valour! Compassion!) got a Lortel, too, and he will be back; so will the wonderfully gifted Denis O'Hare, who's currently courting Cherry Jones' Major Barbara under Sullivan's supervision.

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BOSOM BUDDIES IN SACRAMENTO

"I was born to play Vera Charles," trills Julie Halston, who gets her chance next month opposite Ruth Williamson's Mame at the Sacramento Civic Light Opera. "Do you think there'll be any scenery left when we get through?" she asks rhetorically. Both of these long drinks of water are graduates of The Charles Busch School of Dramatics Arts. It's even rumored that Sacramento wanted Busch to play Mame--which he did a few years ago in the non-musical Auntie Mame at an American Place Theatre benefit--but the powers that be at SCLO lacked the nerve to do it.

Next, Miss Julie's off to Philadelphia to play Girl Friday to Andrea Marcovicci's Lady in the Dark, which Robert LaFosse may choreograph. Halston also has her hand up for an often overlooked, funny role in Scott Elliott's Roundabout revival of The Women: the perpetually pregnant Edith. (Yes, she's already done Olga.)

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Nicky Silver
Nicky Silver
SILVER WHINING

"What am I up to? I'm doing rewrites on Three Days of Rain and Three Hotels. Next week, I'm coming out of a cake at a Rotarian banquet. I'm trying to diversify. I'm hoping that the game show network will afford me my real career goal, which is: I want to be the Charles Nelson Reilly of this millennium. I'd be really good at it." Thus jokes Nicky Silver at 90mph. What he is really up to is a revised book for the upcoming revival of The Boys from Syracuse.

He's also working on Past Perfect, a play that will star his favorite muse and ex-roommate Patricia Clarkson if she can ever extricate herself from her well-paid sideline: filmmaking. (She co-starred with Jake Weber in Wendigo, a small movie that was well liked at Sundance, and will also be seen in a Glenn Close movie coming out this fall and titled The Safety of Objects, "a dark, somewhat comic view of the suburbs." After a three-episode fling with Kelsey Grammer's Frasier, Clarkson zipped to Cleveland and joined George Clooney, Sam Rockwell, Tony-winner Michael Jeter, and Luis Guzman for Welcome to Collinwood, produced by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh. He didn't direct, two brothers did: Anthony and Joe Russo. "They did a small film at Slamdance several years ago that Soderbergh loved and said 'I'll produce your next one.' And he did."

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UTA BEEN THERE

The Broadway office of theatrical producer Leonard Soloway has a sign on it that says simply UTA HAGEN. The joke: A few years ago, Hagen had problems with the way he produced her vehicle Collected Stories and aired them in Michael Riedel's column in the New York Post. But Hagen has moved on to other things--gone West, she has! The theatrical legend (who turns 82 on June 12) is doing Richard Alsieris' Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks in Los Angeles for a six-week run. During one preview, she danced herself right off the stage; mercifully, she wasn't hurt and bounced back like The Pro You Know. In her dressing room the next day was a gift from her droll co-star, Frasier's David Hyde Pierce. It was a compass.