BABES IN ARMS, TOGETHER AGAIN
The Tony-nominated choreographer of 42nd Street, Randy Skinner, is slowly but surely dancing his way back into the spotlight. He recently choreographed a Manhattan Theatre Club workshop of Let Me Sing and, in the course of it, a whole character was created for him to perform. This was the first time he had danced on stage in 18 years, since he and Karen Ziemba were Babes in Arms together for [director] Ginger Rogers--and, happily, Ziemba was his partner for the workshop. André De Shields, Show Boat Tony-winner Gretha Boston, Marc Kudisch, and Beth Lovell completed the lineup.
Michael Busch, who directed this musical cavalcade and scripted it with Michael Amn, believes he's about a year away from a full production: "André's committed to it, but he's going to do The Full Monty in London if British Equity approves him, and I'm going to wait for him." Let Me Sing grew out of a graduate course in musical theater history that Busch teaches. It's an inspection of the American character as reflected in 33 songs, from the vintage ditties of George M. Cohan to Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel. Says Busch: "We create six characters, start them off at the turn of the century in show business, then show how they define us as Americans and how this music defined us."
A respectable interlude has elapsed since Jacqueline Susann was foisted on the public in the form of Bette Midler in Isn't She Great? (which wasn't, by a darn sight). So perhaps the pollution from that enterprise has lifted enough to allow another portrayal of the authoress of Valley of the Dolls. Ready or not, Mark Hampton's play about Susann has surfaced on the upcoming schedule for the Pittsburgh Public Theater. It's called Paper Doll, and Susann will be played by That Girl herself, Marlo Thomas, under the direction of Leonard Foglia (Master Class) . . . Mark this well, too: In Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's musical adaptation of John Waters' Hairspray movie, the Jerry Stiller role (spouse of the divine Divine in the film) will likely be played by Dick Latessa, last seen in Chaucer in Rome.
DREAMS BEYOND DREAMGIRLS FOR H.H. & B.B.
The Actors' Fund of America's 20th anniversary benefit performance of Dreamgirls, which comes up September 24 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, is what Heather Headley and Brenda Braxton have on the front burner these days: Headley has one of the title roles, and Braxton (dance captain for the original Dreamgirls) is co-directing this one-night-only reprise. After that, they're off to different projects.
Headley will at last put her Tony-winning Aida to rest on September 9, take an entire week off, and then get busy on her pop R&B album for RCA. Broadway will have to wait for a while; "I need to give the album a little time," she sez. Braxton, a Tony nominee for Smokey Joe's Café, will go into rehearsal September 10 for Lone Star Love, which The Dodgers are going to try out for a month at the Cleveland Playhouse to see if it's Broadway-worthy. It's a country-western musicalization of The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Incidentally, Jennifer Holliday--who got a Tony for Dreamgirls--is reportedly miffed that Lillias White is executing her role at the benefit. Holliday, who just finished filling in for the honeymooning Marcia Lewis in Chicago, did get one consolation prize, however: an overdue caricature at Sardi's.
Major Barbara will go extra innings (through September 16) at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre. It can't go any longer that that because its star and title player, Cherry Jones, is committed to making Signs; that's the next movie from the writer-director of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan. Jones will play a policewoman and has scenes with Mel Gibson. Similarly, Dance of Death will only have a limited whirl because Ian McKellen has signed up to repeat his star part in X-Men for the sequel.
STAR OF DAVID
It would appear that playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has found a muse in Marylouise Burke. She won a Drama Desk Award for his Fuddy Meers in 1999. Currently, she's rehearsing his Wonder of the World, which will open November 1 at Manhattan Theatre Club starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Alan Tudyk, Kristine Nielsen, and Amy Sedaris. And Burke expects to be back in a year's time in Lindsay-Abaire's Kimberly Akimbo, which she tried out earlier this summer at South Coast Rep. In that one, she is a girl of 16 (with a disease that causes her body to age faster than the calendar)
By the way, Nielsen thought so much of Wonder of the World that she passed up a chance to reprise her Drama Desk Award-nominated performance in Betty's Summer Vacation when Nicholas Martin restages that Christopher Durang play in Boston; Andrea Martin will star instead. The only cast member from the original Playwrights Horizons production set for Boston is Nat DeWolf, who just arrived big time as the co-author and co-star of the new sleeper flick Lisa Picard Is Famous.
MILLIE MUST MILL
Well, of course, we all knew that Annie Get Your Gun wouldn't last till Labor Day, but nobody thought it would shut even sooner than that--like Saturday, September 1. The producers of Thoroughly Modern Millie had come to Barry and Fran Weissler on bended knee and begged for the Marquis so they could open their show in November, but the Weisslers--pleading cockeyed optimism--wouldn't budge. So now The Nederlanders have an empty house until spring, when Millie will come in as rescheduled. Who won this battle?
GOOD NIGHT, KATHLEEN, GOOD NIGHT
The saddest spectacle of the week has to be the flowers placed by the picture of Kathleen Freeman outside the Eugene O'Neill. A thoroughgoing creature of show biz, she must have taken some private pride in the fact that she gave her last performance in The Full Monty four days before her death from lung cancer. Her last year in the business--on Broadway--crowned her career with distinction, awards, and joy.