When Peter Scolari first read the script of Stewart F. Lane's new comedy In the Wings, he simply couldn't see himself as the flamboyant theater director Bernardo. "The guy is a womanizer, a lothario, a guru," he says. "I wouldn't cast me in that part." So he convinced Lane and director Jeremy Dobrish to see the role in a different light. "The most important thing to me is that he's larger-than-life, a kind of Zero Mostel-meets-Sid Caesar-meets-Don-Knotts guy. And in my grubby hands, he's now so over the top, you have to start at the bottom. I can't even think of him the way the other actors think of their characters; to me, he's not quite real. One day in rehearsal, Jeremy asked me how I thought Bernardo was feeling about something, and my response was, 'I don't care.' Motivation would only get in the way of the romp."
One of the keys to Scolari's portrayal is his use of a Russian accent. Yes, Bernardo is (supposedly) a Russian immigrant whose father was a semi-noted Communist in the 1950s. "I am doing a very bad Russian accent and dipping into an even worse French one when I can," says the actor. "No one should be allowed to lean into consonants the way I am. You can floss your teeth in the time it takes me to say the letter 'M.'" Still, adopting a faux-Russian accent was easier than perfecting the real English one that Scolari used this summer as Henry Higgins in the Bucks County Playhouse production of My Fair Lady. "I've always had the working class English accent in the back of my pocket, but Higgins' more academic one was very hard work," he explains. "I didn't want to sound like Lord Snowdon."
Last seen on Broadway in Sly Fox and beloved by millions for his work on Newhart and Bosom Buddies, Scolari says that his portrayal of Bernardo draws more than a little inspiration from one of his mentors: "When I first started working Off-Broadway around 30 years ago at the Colonnade Theater [which was across from the Public], there was a Moroccan director named Mohammed who took me under his wing. He was about 40, and he wore all these caftans and berets and beaten-down Fedoras. He was truly eccentric and flamboyant, though without trying to be. He used to tell me everything I was doing right -- and unlike Bernardo, I think he meant every word."
Although In The Wings is set in 1978, don't expect to see Scolari looking like a refugee from Saturday Night Fever. "I asked for an exemption," he tells me. "There will be no hippie shirts or super-wide ties for me. It's partially because the character is Russian and needs to be separate from the rest of the cast. But it's also because -- as I told our costumer Mattie Ulrich -- if you dress the gag, the audience will always be one step ahead of you. There's so much scenery to be chewed and so little time!"
As if winning the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress in a Musical wasn't enough to turn Victoria Clark's head, the The Light in the Piazza star was further honored last week when her caricature was hung on the wall of the world-famous Sardi's. Joining her for the gala unveiling was much of her Piazza family, including castmates Matthew Morrison (who has now left the show to join A Naked Girl on the Appian Way), the lovely Kelli O'Hara, the soon-to-depart Mark Harelik, and the multi-talented Michael Berresse (currently moonlighting as the director of [title of show], which was first seen in the New York Musical Theater Festival last year and is set for a reprise run next month as part of this year's festival.) Brava!
As a teenager growing up in Chicago, Heather Burns considered following in her father's footsteps and becoming a lawyer, but she fell in love with acting and decided to pursue that career instead -- never dreaming that she would someday work with two of her screen idols, Woody Allen and his former leading lady, Mia Farrow."I so loved Hannah and Her Sisters when I first saw it," she says. "And a couple of years ago, when MTV asked me what my favorite movie was, I told them it was Rosemary's Baby, which is the truth."
Now, two years after appearing in the Atlantic Theater production of Allen's Writer's Block, Burns is playing Farrow's eldest daughter in Fran's Bed. James Lapine's drama at Playwrights Horizons is about an incapacitated woman and the effect of her illness on her family. Burns, who has been seen on the big screen this year in Bewitched and Miss Congeniality 2, was approached by Lapine when the play was first produced a couple of years ago but was unable to commit at the time. "James writes so beautifully for women," she remarks, explaining her main reason for accepting the role. In addition to relating to the difficult subject matter, the actress says that she can draw on her real-life relationship with her own sister for her onstage relationship with little sister Julia Stiles. "Sometimes," she says, "life has a funny way of working out."
FRIENDS OF DOROTHY
That wicked wit Dorothy Parker is back in vogue. The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room is now the permanent home of the play Talk of the Town, all about the famed Round Table of which Parker was an integral part; the Peccadillo Theater Company production of Parker's little-known play Ladies of the Corridor returns to New York for a seven-week run on September 7; and the fabulous Karen Mason will play Parker in You Might As Well Live, one of the offerings of the New York Musical Theater Festival.
Meanwhile, the Oak Room will be filled with the words of another Dorothy -- the late, great lyricist Dorothy Fields -- from September 6 through 24 as Mark Nadler and KT Sullivan continue to celebrate her centennial with their new cabaret show A Fine Romance. Fields will also be saluted, along with her fellow "Centennial Songwriters" Harold Arlen and Jule Styne, during this year's New York Cabaret Convention in an October 22 program featuring some of my favorite singers. Among them are Lisa Asher, Barbara Brussell, Natalie Douglas, Jeanne MacDonald, and the peerless Julie Wilson.
Of course, some of Fields' greatest lyrics can be heard in Sweet Charity. The current Broadway revival, starring Christina Applegate and Denis O'Hare, just celebrated its five-month anniversary on Broadway. Meanwhile, San Diego's Old Globe Theater is hosting a free screening of the film version of Charity on September 19 in honor of one of its stars, the one-and-only Chita Rivera. Her autobiographical theater piece Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life begins its pre-Broadway tryout there on September 10.
News from beyond New York: Avery Brooks and Patrick Page will star in the Shakespeare Theatre production of Othello starting August 30; Jennifer Hope Willis will play Sharon in the Walnut Street Theater production of Finian's Rainbow beginning September 6; Stephen Lang takes to the stage of the Goodman Theater for the solo show Beyond Glory starting September 20; and, that same day, Jere Burns will begin performances in the world premiere of Lee Blessing's The Scottish Play at the La Jolla Playhouse.