Gregory Itzin could have taken an easier job than starring in South Coast Rep's world premiere of Donald Margulies' virtual solo piece Shipwrecked: An Entertainment, in which he plays Louis de Rougemont, a vainglorious sea captain telling his life story. But the actor, a former Tony Award nominee for his work in The Kentucky Cycle and an Emmy Award nominee for 24, is embracing the challenge of this rich and complex role.
"It's very daunting. I'm on stage the entire 90 minutes, it spans 30 years, and unlike when I did the reading last year, I have to memorize the whole thing," he says. "The language is high-flown, since the man is British with a very specific way of speaking. The words don't come trippingly off the tongue, but having a big Shakespearean background, the play really appealed to me. Plus, what really drew me is that it's a tale told where the language tells the story."
Interestingly, Itzin doesn't share his character's fascination with the sea. "My mode of travel is the automobile. I've gone everywhere by car. I grew up in Wisconsin, which is sort of landlocked," he says. "But I love the idea of sailing, and my wife has sailed for years. We don't have our own boat. A lot of people I know give them up because of the expense and the maintenance. It's hard enough just to keep the family afloat."
Itzin admits he's been a bit taken aback by the notoriety he's gained from his portrayal of President Charles Logan on 24. "The fanaticism of the show's fans is huge," he says. "Even my relatives have told me they couldn't sleep after watching the show. I don't know if I'll be on this year. All I know is I'm not dead." As for what's ahead for him after Shipwrecked, Itzin says, "I've played presidents and kings and sea captains. I think I need to play the Pope next."
A HAPPY ENDING?
Marsha Mason has no trouble relating to Kim, the mother who insists her daughter pursue her artistic passion in Sarah Treem's new play A Feminine Ending, which begins performances on October 4 at Playwrights Horizons. "My parents were very supportive of my passion for acting," she says. "They both loved community theater and participated in it. Plus, when I was in Catholic school, I volunteered my dad to appear with me in The Wizard of Oz and in college, we co-starred in Playboy of the Western World." Mason's two daughters, Nancy and Ellen, also turned out to be successful writers. "I remember when Nancy was at Williams College, she told me about all these kids who were trying to fulfill their parents' dreams instead of their own, and I felt terrible about that."
In addition to liking her character, a woman who put aside her own career as a painter to become a wife and mother, Mason, a four-time Academy Award nominee, had other reasons for accepting the role. "I love the smartness of the writing, and I think the play is really speaking to a true dilemma that's out there for women today. Life has turned out so differently from what the feminist movement of the 1970s envisioned," she says. "Plus, there's a wonderful surprise towards the end, which I won't reveal. I love plays that continue to reveal things late in the game, so you don't know where they're going. Neil [Simon, Mason's ex-husband] used to do that and I was always struck by that facet of the work when I read them."
Mason, who has directed plays herself, is thrilled that her friend, actress Blair Brown is helming the production. "Blair is just terrific, so bright and quick," she says. "I think directors who have acted are generally better with other actors. A large part of the success of my film career is because in my first two films I was directed by Paul Mazursky and Mark Rydell, both of whom were actors."
Mason has spent much of the past 15 years running a farm in New Mexico, but she's planning to give that up to not just concentrate on acting but pursue her own artistic passions. "I really enjoy painting and sculpting, and I'd love to find time to take some classes," she says. Meanwhile, the painting on stage during A Feminine Ending wasn't done by Mason, but by her son-in-law David Florimbi, a well-known California artist. "I felt his work was very evocative of what my character would paint, so I showed a brochure to Blair, and I'm thrilled she agreed."
FEEL THE BURNHAM
"At one point, I wanted to do a CD of songs from new composers, but after this one show of Piazza at Lincoln Center, this guy named Paul Lambert approached me and said he wanted to make my CD if he could pick the songs with me," says Burnham. "He knew I was playing Fabrizio on the show's national tour, and he figured my target audience from those shows would be 50-year-old women and teenage girls. So we came up with a list of 50 songs -- I told him they'd have to be something I connected to -- and then we pared it down. And he was right. All these ladies came up to me and told me they loved "Moon River," and the young girls loved that I did "As Long As You're Mine" from Wicked, which made sense to me because I played Fiyero in the workshop. And personally, I'm really glad I got to do "Flight," and "Love to Me" (from Piazza)."
Having devoted over two years of his life to Piazza, Burnham is currently taking things easy. "I've actually turned down shows because I think I need to decompress from the experience a little bit. I was living like a monk while I was doing the show -- no drinking, no staying out late. It's been nice to go out to dinner, have a life; I even went and screamed karaoke the other night. I blew out my voice and didn't care," he says.
For those who have to miss his Metropolitan Room gig -- or can't get enough of him -- Burnham will be performing at a benefit for the Third Eye Theatre Company at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on October 15 and at an Any Wednesday CD event at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle on November 14. "And I'm really excited to be doing this Christmas concert in Portland, Maine in December, where I'm getting to sing John Bucchino's 'Grateful," he adds. "Of course, I do plan to come back to Broadway, but I'd like to be able to originate a role. And maybe win a Tony Award. How does that sound?"
SONDHEIM, SONDHEIM EVERYWHERE
It's no surprise that the 50th anniversary of West Side Story has drummed up renewed interest in (if alas, no Broadway revival) the beloved Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents tuner. Right now on the CD shelves are a new recording of the show starring international singing sensations Vittorio Grigolo and Hayley Westenra, and A Time For Us, a compilation of previous recordings of the show's tunes by Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Johnny Mathis -- plus a brand-new version of "Tonight," thrillingly sung by Kristin Chenoweth and Hugh Panaro.
On September 29, The Paley Center for Media will host a screening of West Side Story at 50, which includes a clip of the "balcony scene" from the stage musical, a 1958 episode of the series Look Up and Live featuring Robbins, and a 1961 television interview with Sondheim. Next up, the Works and Process series at the Guggenheim Museum will present a concert of Bernstein music by Dr. Richard Kogan on September 30 and October 1.
Meanwhile, you can't seem to swing the proverbial cat around the country without hitting a Sondheim musical. Boston boasts A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, while the nearby Shoreham Theatre hosts local favorite Leigh Barrett in Gypsy. Philadelphia's premier Sondheim interpreters, the Arden Theatre Company, offers up Assassins this month, while the nearby Players Club of Swarthmore is producing the musical for a month's run beginning October 18. Heading west, there's A Little Night Music at South Coast Rep starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Mark Jacoby. The soon-to-launch national tour of Sweeney Todd, starring Tony Award winner Judy Kaye, is thrilling the crowds at San Francisco's A.C.T.. Next month, a benefit production of Follies, starring cabaret diva Wesla Whitfield as Sally will take place October 26 and 28 at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. Going northward to Seattle, Into the Woods debuts next month at 5th Avenue Theatre, while in nearby Olympia, Tony winner Jarrod Emick takes on the title role in the Capital Playhouse's Sweeney Todd.
As for Sondheim-obsessed New Yorkers, who are anxiously awaiting the Roundabout's 2008 revival of Sunday in the Park with George, they can content themselves with CAP 21's two-part reading of A Little Night Music on October 15 and 29, or head to the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Roam where cabaret star KT Sullivan's eclectic new show Autumn in New York contains first-rate renditions of two Sondheim songs: "Do I Hear a Waltz" and "Who's That Woman."