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The Best is The Worst

Let's hope Ann-Margret doesn't come to Broadway in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

By New York City

LONE STAR, LITTLE GLITTER

Ann-Margret as Miss Mona
Ann-Margret as Miss Mona
Well, of course, nobody wants to put a bad word out on Ann-Margret--do you think this is going to be easy for me?--but I was in the preview audience on Sunday night when The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas resumed its cross-country tear in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and let me assure you that this show will reach Broadway like hell in a handbasket. That is to say, it won't. At the risk of seeming like I'm picking on Tommy Tune (architect of the original production) in particular and actresses named Ann in general, I must say I haven't seen a show as unworthy of the Great White Way since Ann Reinking and La Tune stumbled around the country in Bye, Bye Birdie--the film version of which, it's too ironic not to note, put Ann-Margret on Hollywood Central Standard Time.

This Whorehouse has been in trouble for a while. After a fairly promising start late last year, the show didn't get better. By spring, it had actively started to skid right off the tracks with some of the most lethal reviews any touring show has ever received--brickbats aimed at the production, the show itself, and, most damaging of all, the little, lost leading lady herself. It was hoped that a two-month layoff (always in the schedule) would give the show a second creative wind and allow Ann-Margret time to regroup. (Like Tom Selleck with A Thousand Clowns, she found herself trying to tour herself to Broadway at the same time that she had to cope privately with the death of a parent--in her case, her mother.) As quietly as they could, the creators nipped and tucked, replaced a few cast members, and reopened the tour this past weekend in Green Bay. The next move is Detroit, with a good nine months of bookings after that. The goal was never Broadway, or so they said last year. Let's hope they hold to that, because the NYC reception would be blistering.

Whether or not Ann-Margret is well cast as the Lone Star madam, Miss Mona--and she isn't, once you think beyond the ads--is a moot point at this late date. She is, according to the program bio, "making her theater debut in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Why this show, and why now? Maybe it's now or never. The singing voice is in better shape than, say, in her appearance at Radio City Music Hall more than a decade ago, but the lady's dancing days are over. She moves about the stage in sharp, angular lunges, like a car-crash victim gingerly recovering; this would be too mannered by half if she were doing Norma Desmond. Mind you, she's as gorgeous as ever and has glitzy Bob Mackie gowns for all occasions, but there is a dearth of stage charisma here.

Despite the Emmys, the Golden Globes, and the brushes with Oscar, A-M lacks any sort of stage technique for a book show. She is one of the most wonderful concert and club entertainers in America, but it's another thing entirely to relate to other people on stage when you can't break down the fourth wall and just be yourself. Scenes grind to a whispery halt every time she makes a carefully plotted entrance in Whorehouse. Her energy level is so low that the show seems nothing more than an artificial star turn (think Lana Turner touring Forty Carats).

It's hard to put your finger on how the show fails Ann-Margret. Somehow, it feels like a much smaller enterprise now; what once was a helluva good time is barely passable entertainment. The score (by Carol Hall) is a bauble, but the only two numbers that register close to their old kick are "Doatsy Mae" (performed by Forbidden Broadway's wonderful Roxie Lucas) and "The Aggie Song," which Tune's original co-choreographer Thommie Walsh has meticulously recreated and which is still a knockout. (Walsh also directed this production). There should be Purple Hearts in all of this for Gary Sandy (who, as the smitten sheriff, carries the show through the book scenes) and Ed Dixon (who prances about in a role similar to that of the crafty politico he played sans music in The Best Man).

You sense that this might be Ann-Margret's one conceivable Broadway shot--and you may remember, as I did, that the late Michael Bennett tried in vain to talk her into doing a show about Ruth Etting. How he would have tailored that specifically for her! But that was 20 years ago.

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H-E-E-RE'S CHARLEY

I don't know how Charles VII escaped his big coronation number on Broadway when he was there ever-so-briefly in the 1974-75 season, but composer Larry Grossman and lyricist Hal Hackady have amended that slight oversight with a new number they have written to end act one of their Goodtime Charley, now being revived (through September 22) Off-Off-Broadway at the Arc Light Theater. This musical rehashing of the French king's encounter with Joan of Arc stars Daniel Reichard and Camille Diamond in the roles that originally had Joel Grey and the aforementioned Ann Reinking in the running for Tony Awards.

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LINEUP FOR A FAMOUS LOGO

The aforementioned Thommie Walsh--the original Bobby of A Chorus Line, whose showstopper never got beyond "If Troy Donahue can be a movie star, then I can be a movie star"--will be among the original cast members turning up Friday for Paper Mill Playhouse's reprise of the show. This edition is the national tour helmed by another original cast member-turned-director, Baayork Lee (Connie), and Paper Mill's home in Millburn, New Jersey is as close as it'll come to NYC.

Two of the shows three Tony-winning performers--Sammy Williams (Paul) and Kelly Bishop (Sheila)--are scheduled to appear. The third, Donna McKechnie (Cassie), is on the road with her upcoming one-woman show, Inside the Music--which, coincidentally, she will perform at Paper Mill on October 2. Others making the Chorus Line-up: Priscilla Lopez (Diana Morales), Clive Clerk Wilson (Larry), Pamela Blair (Val), Scott Allen (Roy), and Donna Drake (Tricia). The show's original rehearsal pianist, Fran Liebergall, serves as the tour's musical director.

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PREPARING TO KISS THE BROADWAY KATE GOODBYE

Thursday night was the first time Michael Berresse got to see Kiss Me, Kate. Why the hold-up? Well, he's been giving a Tony-nominated performance in the show (as gamblin' man Bill Calhoun) since it opened on November 18, 1999, aside from a break to appear in Steven Spielberg's A.I.. Eight days from now, Berresse jumps across the pond to do Kate again in London, so this was one of the few opportunities he had to actually see this fabulous production. (He had kind words for his replacement, Kevin Neil McCready.) Berresse, Marin Mazzie, and conductor Paul Gemignani will be the three main exports to London from the revival's original cast; Brent Barrett, freshly freed from Annie Get Your Gun, will have Brian Stokes Mitchell's Tony-winning role of Fred Graham/Petruchio, and Nancy Anderson has been recruited from the road-company Kate to play Berresse's vis-à-vis, Lois Lane.

Amy Spanger, who originated Lois L. in this revival and is now in tick, tick...BOOM! at the Jane Street Theater, is listening to her heart these days, turning down work to be with beau Michael Hall (late of Cabaret and now a cast member of TV's much-acclaimed Six Feet Under). Let it be said that Burke Moses, Carolee Carmello, Janine LaManna, Walter Charles, Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, Herb Foster, Michael McCormick, and other replacements are keeping the Kate banners flying high at the Martin Beck. All that remains of the original cast are Stanley Wayne Mathis and Michael Mulheren; they'll go out with the show when it closes on December 30

John Guare, who brushed up his Porter and Shakespeare here, will follow himself into the Beck in March 2002 with his adaptation of Ernest Lehman's novella and screenplay Sweet Smell of Success. John Lithgow and Brian d'Arcy James star as a Winchellesque columnist and his publicist flunky. A Chorus Line's Marvin Hamlisch did the music and Craig Carnelia (Is There Life After High School?) the lyrics. Carousel's Nicholas Hytner will direct the piece.


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