It has just been officially reported--what you have known for months from reading this column--that Kristin Chenoweth will be starring in ABC's upcoming Wonderful World of Disney adaptation of The Music Man, playing Marian the Librarian to Matthew Broderick's Professor Harold Hill. Shooting commences in March. ("Shucks," sez you, with your spring tickets to The Producers!) It's a step up for the pint-sized lyric soprano (a Tony-winner for her Sally in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown), who last showed her musical comedy wares as the secretary in Rob Marshall's TV-movie remake of Annie.
Television continues to ensnare Chenoweth, above and beyond her brief fling with sitcom stardom in the late and not necessarily lamented Kristin: She has signed up for a recurring role on Frasier, that of title character Kelsey Grammer's agent, and one of the episodes in which she appears has already aired. This job will keep her tied up on the other coast at least for another year, apparently shooting down the prospect of her playing Lili in Carnival (like Cunegonde, a role Kristin is dying to do), which Rob Marshall's sister Kathleen will direct and choreograph for Encores! in February. But Melissa Errico, whose voice would sound so nice wrapped around "Love Makes the World Go 'Round," is in town and is said to be eminently available for that assignment.
CARNIVAL, OUI; CARNIVALE NON.
What a difference a vowel makes! While it will be wonderful to have Carnival back on the boards again--even in semi-staged concert form at Encores!--Carnivale (with an "e") has been put on hold for another year. Annie Get Your Gun's Graciela Daniele was to have directed an original show with that title at Radio City Music Hall in May, starring The Rockettes and celebrating the rituals of carnivale, but the project has been tabled "till the economy turns around"--hopefully, by May 2003. Daniele will "only direct" Carnivale and will employ the fancy footwork of four different choreographers: Mark Dendy, Willie Rosario, and Debra Brown are three of them. The fourth is TBA. David Rockwell, who must have felt somewhat constrained in designing his Drama Desk-nominated, Broadway-debut sets for The Rocky Horror Show at Circle in the Square, has the entire Music Hall stage to fill in his second time at bat.
I wonder if the Encores! presentation of Carnival will give producers second thoughts about reviving Bob Merrill and Michael Stewart's 1961 musicalization of Leslie Caron's 1953 Lili movie. Disney's theatrical productions president Thomas Schumacher wanted to go forward with a full Broadway mounting of the show but was flagged down. "I couldn't get enough support for it," he recently admitted. "My concept was to do a reworking of it to see if that score and that basic story worked, and we had all the pieces in place. We did a great reading with Billy Zane, Peter Gallagher, and B.D. Wong--but I just couldn't generate enough enthusiasm among my colleagues."
CHANGES IN MEDIUMS AND TITLES
Quills author Doug Wright, who directed and wrote the Vineyard's recent Unwrap Your Candy, has taken up his screenplay pen and dashed off an adaptation for Warner Brothers of a New Yorker piece by Jonathan Harr, who wrote the best-selling A Civil Action. It's about a civil case in the funeral home industry, called The Burial; but, says Wright, "we may change the title to something a little more inviting." Ron Howard, about to show up on the screen scene with A Beautiful Mind, will direct.
Nor is all of John Guare's time being spent turning Ernest Lehman's Sweet Smell of Success into a Marvin Hamlisch-Craig Carnelia Broadway musical. He, too, has his hand in films, adapting Frances Ives' novel Before the Fact for director Philip Kaufman, who brought Quills to the screen last year. Alfred Hitchcock filmed the story 60 years ago as Suspicion and an Oscar went to Joan Fontaine for her portrayal of a homely heiress in love with a lethal Cary Grant. Contrary to the original story and Hitchcock's plan, Grant abruptly emerged at the end as a non-killer. Will the remake properly credit the guilty party? "You'll have to pay your money and see," says Guare teasingly.
ME AND MY BEBE, MY BEBE AND ME
The acting equivalent of what Bebe Neuwirth did in her big dance duet with various Roxie Harts at the end of Chicago is essentially what she does with Robin Bartlett all the way through Everett Beekin. The actresses play two different sets of sisters in this split-level, 1940s/1990s Richard Greenberg saga, and play them with inflections and mannerisms so identical to each other's that you are convinced they are related. What a sister act this is! Daniel Swee, casting director at Lincoln Center--kindly take a bow!
Beekin marks Bartlett's first New York stage work in a decade. Her last appearance here was in Reckless at Circle Rep, wherein she offered so many wonderful, comic characterizations with Nancy Walker-esque timing. ("You can have coffee there now," she says wistfully of that long-gone Sheridan Square theater space.) She has spent the last 10 years on the West Coast, making a name for herself in television (Mad About You, It Had to Be You) and features (Postcards From the Edge, Regarding Henry) and raising a family with hubby Terence Cannon, a fiction writer. "But now that my son is old enough, I can [come back here to do plays]. So this might happen again," she says. Keep that happy thought; Robin Bartletts don't grow in bunches, y'know!
Marcia Jean Kurtz, who plays the mother in the first act of Everett Beekin, plays a waitress in the second act with one word of dialogue--and not even an English word, at that. Craftsman that she is, Kurtz has constructed a whole back story on the woman to make sure that the one word rings true. "I think she is a Holocaust survivor," she reasons.
HERE'S TO HART
As we raise our glasses to salute all those who give and give and give in these troubled times, the term "being a New Yorker" has gained a special patina of late. And never has that glow been so prescient than at the Vineyard Theatre's gala serenade to Kitty Carlisle Hart on November 26, titled You've Gotta Have Hart.
Ostensibly given to launch a new musical theater lab named after the lady herself, the gala was a gathering of Vineyard performing alumni (Betty Buckley, Judy Kuhn, and more) plus Kitty's supporters and friends, all charmingly hosted by Kevin Chamberlin. The show's highlight was Patricia Neal's knock-'em-dead speech from The Royal Family. The surprise find was the laid-back singing voice of Geoffrey Nauffts. (Who knew? Greenwillow, anyone?). But the true showstopper was The Lady Herself. As beautiful and charming as ever, Hart made one so very proud to be here in this city, at this time. And when she took to the dance floor at the evening's elegant end, partnered by her son Christopher (the spittin' image of his dad), our hearts stopped. To paraphrase the song with which she capped the show, "Here's to Life." But mostly Kitty, here's to you.