MILLIE HOMELESS?

First, it was The Visit. Then, The Rhythm Club. Now, word from the West Coast is that Thoroughly Modern Millie may be postponed till the fall. The stage musical remake garnered some wonderful notices indeed at the La Jolla Playhouse and is ready for Broadway--but is Broadway ready for it? Right now, no. The show has taken a ticket and is waiting for a house.

Marc Kudisch
Marc Kudisch
If the theater crunch continues, then Millie's square-jawed dreamboat of a boss, Marc Kudisch, could be the one for whom the Bells Are Ringing. Faith Prince has been paging a leading man for some time. Her reprise of Judy Holliday's Tony-winning role in this Styne-Comden & Green musical is due at the Broadway theater on April 22. And if that project doesn't come through, you might find Kudisch playing Billy Bigelow at the Paper Mill Playhouse as of June 1, when Carousel begins bustin' out all over. His principal competition is Brian d'Arcy James, who had a small role in the Lincoln Center Carousel in 1994. Brandon Jovanovich and Christiane Noll suggested that Paper Mill put this show in their lineup when they did The Student Prince there--but they were offered Mr. Snow and Carrie instead of the leads. Eddie Bracken, 80, will be the Starkeeper.

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LATE-BLOOMING CO-STARS

"We've been trying to work together for 40 years, and at last we've made it!" exclaimed Eileen Atkins at the Promenade on opening night of The Unexpected Man, in which she plays opposite Alan Bates. The two have professionally do-si-doed around each other for years, and even worked at the same time at the Royal Shakespeare Company, though not in the same production (they contemplated a Romeo and Juliet that never came to pass). It took Yasmina Reza's monologue-driven two-hander to turn the trick, and the stars' belated pairing has produced the biggest advance in Off-Broadway history ($1.22 million), assuring they'll stay put at least until January 28.

Both have been storing up nuts for winter so they can afford to play Off-Broadway. According to Atkins, "Alan just finished filming Henry VIII in something in Budapest, and he has been doing a marvelous TV series all summer based on Nancy Medford's Love in a Cold Climate. Thank goodness! He wouldn't have been able to go Off-Broadway [otherwise], because he had just done 18 months of the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing Antony. Indeed, I couldn't have, either--if I hadn't done films this summer."

When the two took up rehearsing The Unexpected Man, Atkins was completing the TV-movie version of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Oscar winner Emma Thompson and Tony winner Audra McDonald. "I loved doing Wit," says Atkins. "I had the lovely part of the professor. Working with Mike was bliss. I've been lucky to work with the best people; part of the time, that's what makes it."

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TALLULAH TIMES THREE

It's a beauteous bounty of Tallulah (Bankhead, for those of you who say "Tallulah who?") in the current theatre season. A Tallulah Trilogy, if you will. Two of the armada have already docked: the forgettable Dahling at the Grove Street Playhouse, and Tovah Feldshuh's take-no-prisoners tour-de-force in Tallulah Hallelujah! Neither show has a script that does justice to the Bankhead myth, but hand it to the indefatigable Tovah: When she's good, she's good.

Kathleen Turner as Tallulah Bankhead
Kathleen Turner as Tallulah Bankhead
Now comes Kathleen Turner into the bullring. Let the games begin, because the lady is a knockout. I checked out the ferocious dame of dames as her vehicle Tallulah (written by Sandra Ryan Heyward) was going through labor pains in Baltimore. I won't detail the problems with yet another unfortunate script on Bankhead (can no one write the Tallu tale?!), but Ms. Turner is already something else. Prowling the stage like it was her private lair, she offers a take on Tallulah that is no caricature: no down-in-the-depths bass-baritone, no drag queen impersonation. This is not the wildly over-the-top mishmash that Turner detractors have predicted for months; it's a younger, more glamorous, defiantly sensual Tallulah we get here. What's more, Turner breaks the fourth wall in the play by interacting with the audience (as does Feldshuh in her show). It's one of the conventions Heyward gets right.

A seductress in residence, Turner takes the ball and runs. And, brothers and sisters, the audience buys it all. What was this, a Garland or Springsteen concert? They believed! Sighing, applauding, making "aaah" sounds of agreement when Turner tossed private asides their way, they were involved!

This is no improv act, mind you; it's all scripted for Ms. Turner. But you can imagine the reactions, the interruptions, she must get at certain performances. Never fear; she is in complete control here. And disciplined. Better than Cat. Definitely better than Indiscretions! Cross every appendage that crosses in the hope that Heyward is able to perform proper play surgery, as this performance must make to New York. The winner and new champion may be the last Tallulah.

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MASTERPIECES IN THE MAKING

Kathleen Chalfant, who originated Wit's lead role of the doomed John Donne scholar and "did an Eileen Heckart" with it--i.e., won literally every Best Actress award there was save except the Tony, for which she wasn't eligible as an Off-Broadway actress--just finished a stint in The Vagina Monologues and has moved on to another Pulitzer Prize property: She spent July and August playing Aunt Hannah in a TV-movie version of James Agee's A Death in the Family. Aline MacMahon had that role in Tad Mosel's 1961 Pulitzer Prize play and in the 1963 film version. Chalfant's co-stars include James Cromwell, Annabeth Gish, and John Slattery. The show will air in February, one of 10 classic pieces of American literature on Masterpiece Theater.

Installment #1 in the Americanization of Masterpiece Theater was Cora Unashamed, with Regina Taylor and the actress who replaced Chalfant in Angels in America: Tony winner Cherry Jones. Next up for the Jones girl is a movie she made for Lifetime last summer, called What Makes a Family? "It's a true story about two women who were lovers and had a child," says Jones. "Whoopi [Goldberg] plays the lawyer, and I'm the daughter of Anne Meara."

What are Jones' future stage plans? "The only job I know I have coming up in the theater is in the fall of 2001, a production of Macbeth with Tony Shalhoub and me as Lady M at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. This is going to be Robert Brustein's last season at ART so, hopefully, a bunch of us are going to get together and act for him. We all grew up in that company."