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The stars come out for Gore Vidal...Legends redux...Whither Little Women?

What's up with The Best Man, those Little Women, and James Kirkwood's legendary Legends?

By New York City

A MAN FOR ALL ELECTION SEASONS

No doubt about it, the first play out of the Broadway hopper this fall will be setting the star standard for the entire season. Director Ethan McSweeney's revival of The Best Man, in this day of low-voltage marquee lure, already shapes up as a dazzler: Spalding Gray, Chris Noth, Charles Durning, Elizabeth Ashley, Christine Ebersole, and Michael Learned top the cast. Now you can add Mark Blum from The Waverly Gallery, Jonathan Hadary from the recent The Winter's Tale, Ed Dixon from Pippin, and Patricia Hodge from Communicating Doors to the all-star assemblage going into rehearsals on August 1 for Gore Vidal's 40-year-old election-year opus. The trick to this brand-name casting lies in the production's limited run: All the actors signed for a total of 22 weeks (previews begin September 5, and the final performance is December 31). Theoni V. Aldredge will costume The Best Man--again; the original production was her second Broadway credit, after Sweet Bird of Youth. On September 15, two days before the play opens, Doubleday will publish Vidal's final history, The Golden Years. All this, and on October 3, Vidal turns 75.

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LITTLE WOMEN ON BROADWAY: YULE NEVER KNOW

The unfortunate thing about postponing the Broadway arrival of Little Women for two months is that the Allan Knee-Jason Howland-Mindi Dickstein musical is almost made to order for the end-of-year holiday trade. So it was with happy hearts that the producers (Randall Wreghitt and Dani Davis) received a call from The Really Useful Company, inviting the show over for an English Christmas. It seems the Brits are really up on their Louisa May Alcott, thanks to a recent, popular seven-hour miniseries adaptation of the novel. A potential game plan is for the new musical version to lift-off in London and then have an English cast step in so the Yanks can head back to America and straight into Boston tryouts, now set for February and March at the Wilbur Theater. Talks are going on right now to that effect among the hands-across-the-ocean dealmakers.

Nick Corley will be directing the ten-member London cast, which is headed by Kerry O'Malley (Jo), Becky Watson (Meg), Megan McGinnis (Beth), and Jennifer Gambatese (Amy). Their mother, Marmee, will be Jan Maxwell, and the wonderful Jane Connell has just come on board as the fierce Aunt March. Dispatching the men's roles: John Dossett (Fritz Bhaer), Robert Stattel (Mr. Laurence), Joe Machota (Laurie), and Robert Bartley (John Brooke). Regardless of the route taken, the show should reach Broadway by spring.

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LIVING LEGENDS

When the late James Kirkwood presented his play about dueling divas to Mike Nichols for his directorial consideration, the playwright was thinking in grandiose terms--perhaps pitting Elizabeth Taylor against Lauren Bacall. Nichols, however, saw it as Harvey Fierstein against Betty Bluelips, the British transvestite from the Hot Peaches group of the '60s. Kirkwood's jaw understandably dropped, and he hightailed it elsewhere, eventually getting a production up and operative and on the road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing. Legends, as the show was rightly called, sold out every stop along the way before it eventually spun out of control in its own turbulent juices and expired just short of the New York State line.

Well, it finally got here (better late than never) during the Fourth of July holiday just passed, via a staged reading at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. In a move Nichols' probably would have loved, the two luminous leads were played in drag by Lypsinka and Sinthea Starr. Their referee--an aggressive Off-Broadway producer uniting these two famously feuding film greats (read: Davis and Crawford) in a show commercially called Star Wars--was Bryan (Saturday Night Fever) Batt. John DeLuca directed the reading, and the reception from the likes of Betty Comden, Francesco Scavullo, Patricia Neal, Rob Marshall, and Sybil Burton was warming. So don't be surprised if that's not the last you hear of this legendary play.

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WOOD WORKING

Just returned from the London run of Side Man, Tony winner Frank Wood is hitting the ground working. He'll Light Up the Sky at Williamstown with Eric Stoltz, Ron Rifkin, T. Scott Cunningham, Angelina Phillips, Jessica Hecht, Peter Bartlett, and Enid Graham, under Christopher Ashley's direction. Then, in September, Wood will do another reading of the Carrie Hamilton-Carol Burnett play once known as January Pie and based on an incident in Burnett's memoirs, One Mo' Time. None other than Hal Prince is directing that reading.

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REEDING LOVE LETTERS and MORE

Critic Rex Reed is stockpiling the movies he needs to review for The New York Observer so he can sneak away during the last week of July to read the A. R. Gurney play Love Letters in North Carolina with Colin Wilcox (who is is best remembered as the bogus rape-victim in To Kill a Mockingbird)....Now you'll have to call her J. Smith Cameron Lonergan, since she's the new bride of Kenneth, the playwright (The Waverly Gallery, This Is Our Youth)....Danny Burstein, also newly wed (to The Music Man's luscious Rebecca Luker), will be appearing in the August 1 reading of Marty: Bye Bye, Birdie tunesmiths Charles Strouse and Lee Adams have set that beloved, Oscar-winning film to song and Rupert (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) Holmes has crafted the book for this musical stage adaptation, based on Paddy Chayefsky's original teleplay and screenplay. Jason Alexander, long rumored to reprise Ernest Borgnine's Oscar-winning role of the lovelorn Bronx butcher, will be participating in this reading only as a member of the audience. Playing the important women in his life--his domineering mother and his plain-Jane sweetheart--are two Marias from West Side Story: Carol Lawrence (from the 1957 original), and Josie de Guzman (from the 1980 revival). Stephen De Rosa, Robert Sella, and Mark Lotito will be Marty's buddies, and Merle Louise will be his Aunt. The fast-rising and near-ubiquitous Nick Corley will direct.


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