Is it Broadway or is it VH1? The confusion is understandable as the Great White Way is now playing home to such former pop stars as Melanie Brown (Mimi in Rent), Joey McIntyre (Fiyero in Wicked), and Joey Fatone (Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, which is closing on August 22). Next week, Marti Pellow, who led the popular 1980s group Wet, Wet, Wet joins the club -- the Billy club, you might say -- when he slips into the role of Chicago shyster Billy Flynn. (He's replacing Christopher Sieber and will stay with the show until Wayne Brady takes over the part on September 7.)
Pellow has been playing Billy off and on in the UK and Japan for more than two years, and he didn't even formally audition for the role! "I had done a one-night gig at the Albert Hall for Pete Townshend's charity, and a couple of Chicago producers were in the audience," he relates. "After the show, they approached me about doing the part. I told them I had to go see the show first -- and, when I did, I just fell in love with score. It surprised me how many of the songs I already knew. I also knew that playing a lawyer isn't rocket science; I have a met a few slimy ones in my time. The big irony is that, many years ago, Pete had asked me to do The Who's Tommy and I told him I didn't think musicals were for me."
Now, Pellow feels very much at home on stage. It doesn't even faze him that he will be switching Roxies -- from Paige Davis to Charlotte D'Amboise -- in the second week of his stay here. "I am just going to stick with my approach," he tells me, "which is to keep things simple and react just as if I were talking to a real person." In fact, Pellow's so hooked on musical theater, he's thinking about a new gig after he hangs up Billy's hat and cane for good: "I saw Nine with Antonio Banderas when I visited here last year and I think that would be a wonderful, challenging piece," he says.
OBIE, OH BOY!
Not long ago, Kathleen Chalfant told me she was concerned that she might never work again. (I didn't believe her.) Now, it looks like this supremely talented actress may be spending every night of the next season in the theater -- on both sides of the curtain. Beginning August 20, she will star in the controversial British play Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom at 45 Bleecker. Then on October 19, Chalfant checks into the Manhattan Theatre Club's Four by Tenn, a program of one-acts by the great Tennessee Williams.
And here's a note to all of you Off-Broadway actors, directors, playwrights, and designers: Watch out if Chalfant is in the house! She will be one of the judges for the 50th Annual Village Voice OBIE Awards, which will be presented on May 23, 2005. Joining her on the panel are Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paula Vogel, actor André de Shields, actress Daphne Rubin-Vega, playwright/actor David Greenspan, theater scholar David Savran, Variety critic Charles Isherwood, and Voice critics Michael Feingold and Alexis Soloski.
THE NAKED TRUTH
Naked Angels, the star-studded New York theater company, is joining forces with London's Soho Theatre to produce a three-city run of Will Eno's new solo play Thom Pain (based on nothing) starring OBIE winner James Urbaniak. The show's first stop is the Edinburgh Festival, which kicks off next week; it will then head to London's Soho Theater for performances September 3-24 before arriving in the Big Apple for an October 2-23 run at a theater yet to be chosen.
The third time truly proved to be the charm for Jan Maxwell to agree to play the mother in Anton Dudley's coming-of-age drama Honor and the River now at the Summer Play Festival at Theatre Row. "It really was a bizarre chain of events," says the two-time Drama Desk nominee. "They asked me to do it at the Powerhouse Theater at Vassar College earlier this summer but I said no because I didn't want to leave my 8-year-old son. Then they sent me a whole bunch of scripts for the Festival, but when I found out that it was paying $200 a week, I turned them all down."
So, what changed her mind? According to Maxwell, "My agent begged me to read this play -- which I never had -- and once I did, parts of it haunted me so much that I just decided to bite. The character intrigued me; she's really dysfunctional but she has a stark validity, too. Also, this is not one of those plays where everybody's happy, sitting around the kitchen table, and then the dreaded phone call comes. It really starts at the place where the family has to move on after the death of the father."
Up next for Maxwell is a revival of Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano at the Atlantic Theater, beginning September 1. For this production, the absurdist classic has been adapted by Tina Howe; it will be directed by Carl Forsman and will co-star Michael Countryman, Seana Kofoed, Maggie Lacey, and Robert Stanton. "I've never done Ionesco before, so I consider this a learning process," Maxwell says. "I've already done a lot of research and the most surprising thing I found is that Ionesco wrote the play while learning English as a third language."
Maxwell is also in negotiations to play the evil Baroness Bomburst in the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which is scheduled to open at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts next spring. "What can you have against a woman who screams and faints every time she hears the word 'children,'" Maxwell asks rhetorically, with a laugh. "I think it would be a fun part."
LADIES OF THE EVENING
August will be an august month for cabaret's leading ladies, especially those with Broadway roots. Julie Wilson, Sally Mayes, Julie Halston, and Tony Award winner Carol Hall will all be performing in the Yale University Cabaret Conference's Diversity concert on August 1...Former Mamma Mia! star Karen Mason is bringing her Taking A Chance on Love show to Caramoor, August 3-5...The extraordinary Maureen McGovern, due on Broadway this winter in Little Women, settles into Le Jazz Au Bar from August 11 through 22 with her aptly named program Sultry Songs on a Hot Summer's Night.
The divine Andrea Marcovicci, no stranger to the Main Stem, is heading to the Bradstan Country Inn in White Lake, New York to perform August 14-15. She will be followed the next weekend by past Tony nominee Ann Hampton Callaway, whose new album Slow -- which features a duet with her equally talented sister Liz -- is being released on August 24. Finally, the sultry Ute Lemper will perform in the "Joe's Pub in the Park" series at the Delacorte on August 18.
IN MY SIGHTS
Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright, hilariously eulogizing Kiki & Herb at a mock funeral to promote their Carnegie Hall concert Kiki & Herb Will Die For You on September 19...Chris Kattan, ordering a value meal at the McDonalds on 70th and Broadway while discussing the opening night performance of The Frogs on his cell phone...Broadway legend Paula Laurence and good pal Peter Howard, checking out Insomnia at the Midtown International Theatre Festival.