MS. SMITH GOES NOT TO BROADWAY

Maggie Smith's vehicle The Lady in the Van just ran out of gas in London, and won't be making the transatlantic crossing to Broadway. "They say it's not appropriate for New York audiences," says The Smith of Smiths, who's supposed to be as smashing in this show as she was in Lettice and Lovage. Alan

Maggie Smith as The Lady in the Van
Maggie Smith as The Lady in the Van
Bennett's play about the bag lady who lived in his driveway for 20 years was directed by Nicholas Hytner, another known Broadway commodity (Miss Saigon, Carousel). What's so "inappropriate"? If Apple Annie can make it here, so can Dame Maggie....There may also be a snag in the Broadway transfer of Hytner's Donmar Warehouse hit revival of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending; it seems that Helen Mirren was game for the trip, but not others....Drug-of-choice director-of-the-month must be Robin Phillips, who will be installing David Hasselhoff into Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde (via the character's own special lab blend) and will next lead Jessica Lange through the morphine paces of Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night in the West End. Eugene O'Neill's fourth (and posthumous) Pulitzer Prize play will have a 14-week revival there, and Phillips hopes to move the production to Broadway in 2001. Charles Dance and Paul Rudd co-star

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CAMPOBELLO NOT SO BELLO

The star-studded revival of The Best Man that jump-started the Broadway season reminds us how removed the Main Stem has been from the political arena for the past 40 years. And the play' author, Gore Vidal, doesn't see that turf seriously challenged by other works, particularly not by one that took the Best Play Tony Award that eluded The Best Man two years later--namely, Sunrise at Campobello, Dore Schary's account of the pre-Presidential FDR's bout with polio. According to Vidal, that play didn't sit well 'round the fireside. "I was Eleanor Roosevelt's neighbor in the Hudson for years," he explains, "and she said, 'It didn't seem like our family. [The characters] were utter strangers to me.' I asked her, 'Is everything [in the play] wrong?' And she said, 'Yes, everything is wrong.' Dore was so proud of it. She liked him, but she felt he was a little out of his depth. I was at M-G-M when he was running the studio, and I told him, 'Dore, it's too soon to do a play about FDR. It'll fail.' Of course, it was a great success."

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A scene from Swing!
A scene from Swing!
A COLE DAY IN VEGAS

Swing! seems to be slowing down on Broadway, but it's about to swing out in all sorts of global directions: London, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Heading the latter company, most likely, will be Natalie Cole...

What critic has been seen bickering bitterly with his wife at the theater? (This is not as blind an item as you may think.) Of late, he's been squiring around his pre-marital squeeze....

Dimitri Christy and George Dvorsky have gone from Anything Goes to Anything Goes--but in different roles. In Pittsburgh, they were, respectively, the stockbroker boss and the silly-ass Englishman. Now, at the Paper Mill Playhouse, they've traded up: Christy is the ship's skipper (he brings a certain balding, Love Boat authority to the part) and Dvorsky is a cracklin' good Billy Crocker.

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WORKING WALTONS EVERYWHERE

Lincoln Center's fine American Songbook series commences Oct. 20 and 21 with the chapter on Frank Loesser--and, if Jim Walton can be sprung those two nights from The Music Man (where he covers for Craig Bierko), he will join Christiane Noll, David Garrison, Christine Andreas, Ken Page, and Liz Larsen in leafing through the Loesser canon. Gabriel Barre, who helmed The Wild Party Off-Broadway, will direct the evening, and Mark Waldrop (When Pigs Fly) will do the script....Then there are the television variety of The Waltons, who are tackling theater with a vengeance this season. Ralph Waite (a.k.a. John Walton) is busying himself with the classics: Last month, it was Eugene O'Neill's first play, The Personal Equation, at the Provincetown Playhouse; next month, it's King Lear at Intar53. Michael Learned (who won three Emmys as his wife, Olivia) is now on Broadway, married to a philandering Presidential contender (Spalding Gray) in The Best Man. Their John-Boy, Richard Thomas, will be along in November, starring in a very un-Walton-like enterprise: Edward Albee's controversial Tiny Alice at Second Stage. Even the Walton family preacher, Rev. Matthew Fordwick--played by John Ritter some years before Three's Company--will pop up soon, at the Music Box, in Neil Simon's The Dinner Party.

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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SIR JOHN

When Thomas takes up the role of Brother Julian in Tiny Alice this autumn, he will be following the lead--and the revised script--of John Gielgud, who died in May at the age of 96. At Monday's salute to Sir John given by The Shakespeare Society at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, Edward Albee regaled the gathering with an anecdote about the play's original production. Gielgud summoned Albee shortly before the Broadway opening and informed him that he could not perform the scripted ending, in which the dying Brother Julian, bullet in belly, delivers a 10-minute monologue. No actor born of woman, he seemed to be saying, could accomplish such a feat. So Albee reviewed his options: fire Gielgud, "which would have brought me more fame than I would ever receive," or cut the play. He gave his star three choices: " 'You can do the first half of the monologue and then stop, or you can start in the middle and do the second half of the monologue. Or, John, you can do hits from the monologue.' And, of course, we did hits from the monologue.' " In a later production, Albee insisted that the entire death scene be performed as written, but found that it didn't work as well--that Gielgud had been right. Rest assured, the upcoming revival will stick to "hits from the monologue."

A reflection of Gielgud's greatness was the glittering assemblage that turned out to pay homage to him. Sheridan Morley, the official Gielgud biographer, emceed the event and wittily introduced Brian Bedford, Hume Cronyn, Ralph Fiennes, Zoe Caldwell, Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach, Tony Randall, Philip Bosco, Barrie Ingram, and Maria Tucci, most of whom served up warm remembrances and some splendid Shakespeare....Producer Robert Whitehead recalled the rigors of doing Medea with Judith Anderson starring and Gielgud directing. (Anderson also talked Gielgud into playing Jason, reasoning: "I was Gertrude to your Hamlet. I think you owe it to me.")....Keith Baxter got the biggest laugh of the night with a story about filming Chimes at Midnight, in which he was Prince Hal to Gielgud's Henry IV and Orson Welles was both director and Falstaff. Shooting was done on location in Europe, and usually followed very spicy meals. The sound man, Baxter recalls, was "afflicted with flatulence," and his proximity to the actors made filming an ordeal. Eventually, Gielgud yelled out: "Orson, I don't mind giving my crown to Keith, and I don't mind dying--but must it be in a gas chamber?"