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Christmas trees on stage...Dancing in The Grey Zone
...Basket case picnics...

The scoop on blooming onstage Christmas trees, dancing in The Grey Zone, a picnic that is no picnic, and more....

By New York City

CHRISTMASES IN JULY

The prop that marks major merriment in theater these days is, of all unseasonable things, a Christmas tree. One is center stage at Roundabout's new American Airlines Theater, where Nathan Lane is The Man Who Came to Dinner, and around it scampers as zany a cast as Jerry Zaks has ever directed (think A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in the '40s). Off-Broadway, a Christmas tree is the centerpiece of The Crumple Zone at the Rattlestick Theater. Mario Cantone, who replaced Lane in Love! Valour! Compassion! on Broadway, rages hilariously as the perpetual odd-man-out in overlapping gay triangles. "I'm a supporting character in the story of my own life," he wails in the show--and not inaccurately. Buddy Thomas' play gives Cantone license to kill, and kill he does in the most comedic sense of the word. The sleeper hit of the summer, the show has been selling out since it opened to fine notices, and now there's talk of an open-ended run after it finishes its extended engagement August 13. Viva Cantone!

Contrary to earlier reports (ours), it's Lauren Kennedy--not Karen Morrow--doing the Vera-Ellen role in the St. Louis MUNY production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas, running July 17-23. Morrow is playing the Mary Wickes role. Lara Teeter, Lee Roy Reams, Karen Mason and Howard Keel co-star, as we claimed. What will be Reams' big present after White Christmas? He is going to direct his first-choice Reno Sweeney, Chita Rivera, in the Paper Mill Playhouse's Anything Goes in September. Bruce Adler (Crazy for You) will co-star. Viva Rivera!

And, finally, before we leave all this Christmas chatter: Lauren Kennedy will spend her real Christmas in Chicago this year, readying The Rhythm Club for a Broadway opening on February 15. Let loose of Footloose, Jeremy Kushnier will join her, Tim Martin Gleason, Megan Lawrence, Barbara Walsh, Florence Lacey, Jonathan Hogan, and Kirk McDonald, under the direction of Putting It Together's Eric D. Schaeffer

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FROM BARD TO BULGARIA

Character man Lee Wilkof--the shorter half of the Tony-nominated hoodlum duo in Kiss Me, Kate--will stop brushing up his Shakespeare on August 22 and join two fugitives from the current Bard-in-the-Park, The Winter's Tale--Michael Stuhlbarg and Henry Stram--to film The Grey Zone in Bulgaria this fall. This harrowing concentration-camp drama was presented in play form four years ago at the Manhattan Class Company, with Stram particularly vivid as the vicious Nazi in charge. That role in the movie version will be played by Harvey Keitel, and Stram, Stuhlbarg, and Wilkof are in a compound that includes David Strathairn, Allan Corduner, Oscar winner Mira Sorvino, and Steve Buscemi. The Grey Zone was adapted, and will be directed, by its author, Tim Blake Nelson, who is himself also an actor. In fact, you'll see him in that guise with George Clooney, John Turturro, Charles Durning, and John Goodman in the Coen brothers' newest film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, coming out September 29.

The first word of that title--O--also happens to be the name of a movie Nelson just did as a director, and it goes into release about the same time. The story of this O is Othello, as performed by a multiracial group of high school basketball players. The cast is headed by Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles (Ophelia to Ethan Hawke's recent Hamlet), Josh Hartnett, and Rain Phoenix.

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EVEN STEPHEN

Wayman Wong of the Daily News, who retired from full-fledged cabaret reviewing but not from proofreading, informs me that I misspelled Steven Spielberg's name (I rendered it with a "ph")and I'll gladly take a knuckle-rap from a right Wong over such a thing--especially since Nonesuch, the recording label, went through a similar spelling error: The company had to recall its CD of Stephen Sondheim's Saturday Night because his name had been misspelled Steven on the spine of the jewel case.

Elsewhere on the Sondheim score, Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes suspects he won't be doing back-to-back Sondheims this season, that his spring revival of Follies will push his proposed revival of Assassins into the fall of 2001. You wouldn't believe the big names who have their hands up for roles both large and small in Follies, but director Matthew Warchus has a deaf ear to anyone who has done the show before.

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MONDAY NITE SPECIALS: DISHES AND DISHY

"Actors Cooking Food! Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!--but come anyway." Essentially, that's the message from the Drama Dept., which is staging a fundraising "Company Picnic" on July 17 at Greenwich House (27 Barrow Street), with edible delicacies supplied by its various celebs-in-residence. We're talking Dylan Baker's Tuna Fish Sandwiches, Cynthia Nixon's Tomato Surprise, Kevin Chamberlin's (ostensibly hi-cal) Cornbread, Billy Crudup's Baked Beans, Patricia Clarkson's Mint Juleps, Kitty Carlisle Hart's Cucumber Sandwiches (but of course!), Stephen Flaherty's Onion Tarts, Douglas Carter Beane's Three Bean(e) Salad, and Mark Brokaw's Chinese Take-Out. Oh, and Keith Nobbs is knocking himself out with Peanut Butter on Crackers--you know what they say, there are no small parts...

For the record, this is Drama Dept.'s second pass at a picnic (enough to make you, er, antsy?). Its previously scheduled one collided with Neil Simon at the Neil Simon, an all-star evening of scene excerpts benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, so the Dept. rescinded the invite in a mailing and gave us back the evening "for personal growth." This time, alas, the picnic is going up against a no-less-than-all-star reading of The Women for The Actors' Fund of America's Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative. Casting is on the button: Karen Ziemba in Norma Shearer's role, Bebe Neuwirth in Joan Crawford's, Elaine Stritch in Rosalind Russell's, Eartha Kitt in Mary Boland's, Sandy Duncan in Marjorie Main's, Rita Moreno in Phyllis Povah's, Tovah Feldshuh in Paulette Goddard's, Kate Kahanovitz in Virginia Weidler's, Lea DeLaria in Dennie Moore's, Dee Hoty in Florence Nash's, and Hazelle Goodman in Joan Fontaine's. When Polly Bergan called up Phyllis Newman to get tickets to this event, Phyl told Pol, "Don't be silly. You're replacing Rosemary Harris"--and now Bergen is on the other side of the footlights. Neuwirth is reportedly going back to Bitch School to bring it up to speed.


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