Julie Halston has long been one of the theater's most fearless actresses, but she went a step beyond fearless by taking over for Nora Dunn in White Chocolate with just a week to go before the show's first performance. "I had four and a half days to get off book -- and my character, Vivian Beale Somerset, has four huge arias," says Halston. "It was like taking over Tosca from Maria Callas." As it happens, Halston was not unfamiliar with the play, which is about a prominent white couple (played by OBIE winner Reg E. Cathey and Emmy winner Lynn Whitfield) who wake up one morning to find that they have turned black. In fact, she had auditioned for the part of Vivian originally and was disappointed when she heard that the role had gone to Dunn.
"But I realized that she was a big star and had done this kind of role on Saturday Night Live," says Halston. "So I just went on and busied myself with other projects, like writing a book for a new musical. In the long run, I think what happened was that Nora decided she didn't want to repeat herself. It's a very specific part; she's this antic WASP who drinks too much and says racist, heinous things. But William Hamilton, the author, is very democratic about picking on everyone -- gays, Jews, Asians. There have been times when some of the lines have caused audible gasps in the audience. One of the positive things about the piece is that we also discuss ideas like the importance of learning the right way to say someone's name. People may think twice about what they say after they see this."
In addition to loving the script, Halston adores her co-stars. While she didn't know any of them on a personal level before she joined the cast, it turns out that there are several connections. "Reg and I know all the same people, since we've both worked everywhere," Halston says. "And Lynn's ex-husband, the late Brian Gibson, cast me in The Juror. Lynn is gorgeous inside and out, very funny and extremely talented."
Raúl Esparza is in talks to join Erin Dilly, Jan Maxwell, and Marc Kudisch in the Broadway production of the London hit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, scheduled to open in April at the Ford Center.... Norm Lewis will be the male lead in the new Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical Dessa Rose, opening in March at the Mitzi Newhouse .... Sam Shepard and Dallas Roberts will co-star in Caryl Churchill's A Number at the New York Theater Workshop in November .... BAM opens its Next Wave Festival on October 5 with the Cheek by Jowl company of London's all-male staging of Othello.
Don't be shocked if you catch Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft in the audience of Two Parents, Two Weddings, Two Years, which is beginning performances at the Wings Theater on October 7. The play's author, Michelle Kholos, is their daughter-in-law...Lynn Redgrave will give a preview reading of Nightingale, her new play about her maternal grandmother, as part of the Food For Thought series at the National Arts Club on October 7...Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and daughter Stephanie Zimbalist will make their first stage appearance together in the Rubicon Theater's production of The Night of the Iguana, starting October 14.
Meanwhile, the divine Andrea Marcovicci and her amazing mom Helen will join such other singing clans as the Callaways, the MacRaes and the Sullivans at The Town Hall on October 19 for the Cabaret Convention's Family Night. Also on the bill that night are singer Sandy Stewart and her brilliant piano-playing son Bill Charlap, who begin a two-week run at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room on October 5. (Click here for details.)
TRY A LITTLE TOGETHERNESS
The inimitable Harvey Feirstein sparked the Actors Fund of America's recent benefit concert of Hair with his deadpan rendition of "Air," but there were good reasons why many of his original Hairspray castmates weren't on hand to witness it. Kerry Butler is at San Francisco's Magic Theater in the new musical The Opposite of Sex, written by Robert Jess Roth (the director of Beauty and the Beast) and Douglas Cohen. And the wonderful Linda Hart is knocking them dead at Philadelphia's Prince Music Theater in Gemini, a new musical adaptation of Albert Innaurato's popular comedy.
In related news, Hair and Hairspray star Jackie Hoffman is finally bringing the curtain down on her incredibly long running show at Joe's Pub, The Kvetching Continues, on October 11. (That performance will be a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS). But fret not: The hilarious Hoffman will be back at Joe's on November 22 with the equally hysterical Kristine Zbornik in Together Again for the First Time, a brand-new holiday show that will run through December.
ALL ABOUT EVE-OLUTION
Carolyn McCormick immediately related to the script of the Eve-olution, the unusual autobiographical piece about balancing motherhood and career that's now playing at the Cherry Lane. "The writers, Hillary Illick and Jennifer Krier, aren't really playwrights, " says McCormick; "they're sharing authentic, funny stories about their lives. I really responded to these stories. I have a husband [actor Byron Jennings] and two kids, and I work. My mother never worked or even thought about working -- but if I had decided not to work, she'd be upset!" However, McCormick notes that the two-person show isn't geared only to working mothers: "Sabrina Le Beauf, my co-star, is single and childless, but she's fabulous. It's like doing Richard III; you don't have to go out and kill everyone to feel the emotions. I think lots of women will identify with one or both of these characters."
Like Le Beauf, who found fame on The Cosby Show, McCormick first appeared on many of our radar screens in the still-recurring role of Dr. Elizabeth Olivet on NBC's Law & Order. Like many of us, she had no idea that the show would still be going strong 14 years after its debut. "When I first started," she says, "I was the only girl on the show -- and I liked that. But then they decided they needed more female energy. I'm so happy that I have the show because Byron and I love New York, and anything that facilitates us staying here is good. My kids like to visit the set, and they're always upset if Sam Waterston isn't around. They just love him."
McCormick and Jennings will be onstage at the same time this month: he's appearing in the Roundabout production of The Foreigner, beginning October 15, which she admits doesn't make for the ideal family situation: "It's harder on the kids when we're both working, since they don't see us at night. But we both believe that when we're offered work that's interesting, we should just do it. For a couple of years, we were in what I called our 'dinner phase.' I did Dinner With Friends when he was doing The Man Who Came to Dinner, and then I did The Dinner Party when he was in Dinner at Eight. We don't have a name for this new phase yet!"
Don't show this again.