THE WIZARD OF WAS
One of the quieter kingmakers on the cabaret circuit, writer-director Barry Kleinbort, is currently deep into Act II of his first full-fledged musical, Was, based on Geoff Ryman's same-named sci-fi novel that speculates about the origins of Dorothy Gale, the Kansas farmgirl heroine of The Wizard of Oz. Kleinbort is doing the lyrics and the adaptation; the music is by Joseph Thalken, who was musical director for Victor/Victoria and who will be playing for Polly Bergen when she opens at Feinstein's on October 10. (In fact, Thalken has slipped "Time," a song from Was, into Bergen's act.)
The show spans 150 years, operates in two different time zones, and tells two different tales. "One story takes place in the 19th century and the other in the 20th century," explains Kleinbort. "They happen simultaneously on the stage. The story that takes place in the 19th century is what might have been the true story of Dorothy Gale; she tells the events of her life to L. Frank Baum, who turns them into The Wizard of Oz. The story that takes place in the 20th century is about an actor who goes to Kansas to find proof of the existence of Dorothy Gale. The show is about how these two worlds come together."
Act I was enthusiastically received by Lincoln Center execs when it was presented on June 30, under the direction of Graciela Daniele. Dorothy was divided into two roles: the young girl was played by Christina Ambri, a Les Miz Cosette; the older Dorothy was Brooke Sunny Moriber from the Broadway Wild Party. Danny Burstein essayed Baum, Dee Hoty (who recently was Aunt Polly in a Tom Sawyer workshop) was Auntie Em, and John Dossett was Uncle Henry. Among the friends of Dorothy were Howard McGillin and Roger Bart, playing a pair of [presumably 20th century] same-sex lovers. Kleinbort expects the show to be finished and ready for work-shopping by December.
GOGH EAST, YOUNG MAN
Being the voice of Homer Simpson keeps Dan Castellaneta pretty much confined to the other coast, but he has bolted loose twice and come to New York to do theater. Last year, he starred in The Alchemist for Classic Stage Company, and now he is back (through October 8) at the Chelsea Playhouse doing his one-man show of many voices, Where Did Vincent Van Gogh? (It begins with his impersonation of Walter Brennan doing Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life.)
Castellaneta hopes his autumns in New York become a regular thing: "I love doing theater here. It's the only place to do theater, really. When I did this Van Gogh show in L.A., I found people were more standup-oriented. They don't appreciate the theatricality of it as much as they do in New York. That's why I'm so thrilled to have an opportunity to do it here."
In May, Castellaneta can be seen in the filmed (for Showtime) version of Laughter on the 23rd Floor, in the role Lewis J. Stadlen did on Broadway. Only two other Broadway originals reprised their parts on film: Nathan Lane and Mark Linn-Baker as facsimiles of Sid Caesar and Mel Tolkin. Frasier's Peri Gilpin is now the lone female in the room, and Victor Garber, Saul Rubinek, and Mackenzie Astin play variations of Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, and Neil Simon. This version of Laughter is directed by Richard Benjamin, who helmed 1982's My Favorite Year (wherein Linn-Baker played the boy Simon, a budding gag-writer).
THE WALLS OF JERICHO
Jekyll & Hyde star Sebastian Bach has some Jekyll & Hyde-type friends whom he unleashed on Barrymore's Restaurant recently after the show. Bach excused himself at an hour befitting a working professional, but wrestler Chris Jericho and other rowdies carried on without him--and they really carried on. At one point, circa 3am, it disintegrated into an Animal House-like food-fight with catsup on the walls, etc. Management was pissed....Phyllis Newman (who could really do it) is said to be interested in reviving Minnie's Boys, the Larry Grossman-Hal Hackady musical about The Marx Brothers. Perhaps at Jewish Rep, where Newman did a nifty resurrection of A Majority of One....Isn't it a shame Frank Loesser's wonderful, wonderful score for Danny Kaye's 1952 Hans Christian Andersen can't seem to be retooled properly for the stage? Tommy Steele struck out twice in London, in 1974 and 1977; and John Glover has gone down for the count in a version that, burdened by Martha Clarke's choreography and direction, just crashed and burned in San Francisco. Jim Dale, a perfect Hans, bailed out after the first workshop and is currently looking for a new Broadway vehicle. While waiting, he finished doing the fourth Harry Potter audio book, The Goblet of Fire.
NORMA, IS THAT YOU?
Two guys who were ready for their close-ups last weekend: Lypsinka, concluding a standout sellout at the Westbeth Theater; and Michael McQuary, a one-man, cinematic cavalcade, wrapping up a month of Fridays at The Duplex. Both took frantic treks down Memory Lane by way of Sunset Boulevard and delivered devastating takes on Norma Desmond. Lypsinka's act was an audio orgy brilliantly and breathlessly paced, while McQuary did a double-barreled Bette Davis squaring off with herself in Dead Ringer and pogo-sticked his way through Auntie Mame's fondly remembered highlights.
Evidently, Barbra Streisand's Boswell doesn't cut much ice with The Greatest Star. James Spada, who wrote Streisand: Her Life for Crown and Barbra: Her First Decade for Citadel, had to shell out cold, hard cash like everyone else to see the diva's farewell concert. Currently, Spada is between Kennedys--he's following up his biography of Jackie Onassis with one on her offspring, Caroline and John Jr.--and he is becoming a hyphenate: writer-photographer. His debut as a cameraman, Black & White Men: Images by James Spada, has just been exquisitely published by Pond Street Press of Natick, Massachusetts....John Miller is making great inroads with the Broadway community, not only in booking the likes of Christiane Noll (recently), Karen Mason (currently), and Judy Kaye (beginning November 4) for his Arci's Place, but in donating a portion of the proceeds of Mason's gig to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Bravo, Giovanni!