A GAL BY GURNEY

Betty Buckley: Buffalo Gal
Betty Buckley: Buffalo Gal
First, A.R. Gurney Jr. married a Buffalo gal (wife Molly hails from the burg that Broadway "immortalized" in A Chorus Line and The Full Monty), and now he has written one. His play, titled after the same old Erie Canal song that James Stewart sang to Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life ("Woncha come out tonight?"), will open March 15 in said staid Buffalo, directed by John Tillinger and produced by Julian Schlossberg.

It's not a musical, but Buffalo Gal does have one of the Tony-winning Cats, Betty Buckley, purring out her soul in the title role. "It's a vehicle designed for a star," says Gurney. In point of fact, he designed it for the star that belatedly got him to Broadway, Sweet Sue's Mary Tyler Moore; but when the new play world-premiered last summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Moore had to bow out for health reasons and Mariette Hartley went on in her place.

The new Buffalo Gal, with an eye on New York City, is being recast from top to bottom. "We're rehearsing here so we're able to get a pretty good cast together," says the playwright, whose previous brush with Buckley was in a Chicago production of The Fourth Wall--one of the few Gurneys not to get to NYC.

********************

A STROMAN FOR ALL SEASONS

It may seem like Susan Stroman's whole life is Christmas these days. Evidently, she likes it that way, this being the eighth time she has put on A Christmas Carol by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens at Madison Square Garden. Working as choreographer with her late husband, Mike Ockrent, as director, Stroman started the tradition in 1994 with Walter Charles as Ebenezer Scrooge. This year's E.S., bowing November 27, is Tim Curry, whose most famous roles have recently resurfaced on Broadway: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Dr. Frank-N-Furter. (How's that for range!)

Now that Stroman is a full-fledged hyphenate, she runs the whole Christmas Carol shebang. If the show was playing at the Gershwin or the Minskoff or some such theater, that would give her five Broadway shows running simultaneously. As it is, she is the only director-choreographer in Broadway history to have four shows going at the same time: Contact, The Music Man, The Producers, and Thou Shalt Not. I would even venture to say that she is the only director in Broadway history to hold this distinction, ditto the only choreographer. (If I am wrong, I fully expect you buffs out there to take up arms--or, at least, pens--and tell me, okay?)

Purists who prefer their Dickens without song and dance can take heart: Patrick Stewart will reprise his riveting one-man Christmas Carol for a very limited run, December 24 through 30, at the Marriott Marquis.

********************

Philip Seymour Hoffman:Man of Many Talents
Philip Seymour Hoffman:
Man of Many Talents
BEHIND THE SCENES AT MCC

"It's a year of performers directing at MCC," trumpets casting director Bernard Telsey, who with Robert LuPone is co-artistic director of Manhattan Class Company. In particular, Telsey points to Joanna Gleason, the Into the Woods Tony winner, who will be coming along in the spring to direct Anita Gillette in a new play by the late Christopher Gorman titled A Letter from Ethel Kennedy. Four other roles have yet to be cast. Another conspicuous case in point is currently holding forth at MCC: The chameleonic Philip Seymour Hoffman, a Tony contender for True West, has drawn from Anna Paquin a harrowing performance as a casual teenage killer in The Glory of Living, the latest disturbing drama by Rebecca Gilman (of Boy Gets Girl and Spinning Into Butter fame).

Paquin reportedly did not "do a Shelley Winters," (i.e., pull her Oscar out of a brown paper bag and put it on the table for the audition). "She just auditioned," says Hoffman. "I didn't have her--or anybody--in mind for the role. She came in like any other actress, auditioned twice, earned the part on her audition and then worked. I knew she won an Oscar when she was younger and had quite a career, but that was never an issue. It never came up. She was as hard-working as most people I've worked with. And it paid off."

The show will continue through December 22. Then Paquin, like Dance of Death's Ian McKellen, must report to Hollywood to film the sequel to the X-Men blockbuster. Save for a film relapse in February, Hoffman will stick with directing for a spell. He, too, is a co-artistic director, of the LAByrinth Theater Company; and he has chosen to re-direct that company's most explosive hit, Stephen Adly Guirgis' Jesus Hopped the "A" Train, for London rather than stick around and play soused son to Brian Dennehy in Broadway's next Long Day's Journey Into Night. But, says Hoffman, "I hope to work with [Journey director] Robert Falls later on."

********************

I REMEMBER PAPA

Ernest Hemingway: Man of the Hour
Ernest Hemingway:
Man of the Hour
Hoffman will join Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Danny Aiello, and Alec Baldwin Monday at 7:30pm at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall for the first and only performance of the concert version of The World of Nick Adams, a 1957 teleplay by A.E. Hotchner based on the short stories of Ernest Hemingway and featuring the incidental music of Aaron Copland. Everybody else in the cast has won Oscars (Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joanne Woodward) or Tonys (James Naughton, Kevin Kline, and the aforementioned Brian Dennehy). The only star to fall out of this firmament was Robert DeNiro--due to "a scheduling conflict," we're told. Aiello stepped in.

Frank Corsaro will direct the all-stars, and the Orchestra of St. Luke's is being conducted by National Symphony Orchestra music director Leonard Slatkin. Producer of the event is Kevin Duncan. Proceeds go to Newman's Hole-in-the-Wall Gang charity.

********************

MEANWHILE, AT THE MET...

Should that gala lack glitter, it's only because at precisely the same time, in another part of the forest (namely, the Metropolitan Museum of Art), the Governor's Arts Awards are being doled out to 11 esteemed artists. Among them are a man and woman of the theater, Lincoln Center's Bernard Gersten and New Victory's Cora Cahan. Also on the list of honorees are film partners Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, choreographer Mark Morris, photographer Cindy Sherman, and drummer Max Roach.

Emceeing the occasion will be Rosie Perez, and the celebrity presenters include Bill Cosby, Sigourney Weaver, Natasha Richardson, Isabella Rossellini, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Harry Belafonte, Sam Waterston, John Waters, Beverly Sills, Bebe Neuwirth, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Michele Lee, Susan Stroman, Peter Bogdanovich, Katie Finneran, and, of course, Governor George E. Pataki and his wife, Libby. All this, and Copland's music will be served as well.