Just weeks after brilliantly playing the title role in Hedda Gabler, Elizabeth Marvel is now giving an equally stunning performance in Woody Allen's domestic drama A Second Hand Memory at the Atlantic Theater. The OBIE-winning actress plays Alma Wolfe, a 1950s Jewish woman who flees her unhappy Brooklyn family for adventure and love overseas. "I really don't know how I rehearsed this play during the day and did Hedda at night," Marvel says. "But as soon as I read the script, I immediately gravitated towards Alma. She has the ability to assimilate her experiences and to make something of them. She had the chance to leave her situation, and did, which is something Hedda never could do. It was a nice change of pace for me."
Not surprisingly, Marvel was rather intimidated by the thought of working with the Oscar-winning writer-director. "It's one thing to be in the room with a celebrity and another thing to be with an international icon," she remarks. "The first day, I couldn't get beyond the fact that I was working with Woody. But that evaporated so quickly. He's not a showboat; he's really there to work." Ultimately, she says that being directed by Allen was a very different experience than being directed by Hedda helmer Ivo Van Hove, who also guided her in the controversial 1999 production of A Streetcar Named Desire. "Woody is all about the stage pictures; he's very filmic," she explains. "As an actor, he was very hands-off with me, though occasionally he would write me a new joke or help me find a moment. Mostly, he was a great audience."
If she has one minor cavil, it's that she wishes Allen would have let her remain onstage for the whole play -- just as she was in Hedda . "I wish he would put a chair in the corner and let me sit there and listen," she says. "But one thing I did get to do when I was offstage during rehearsals is read this fabulous biography of Tallulah Bankhead, which perhaps seeped into my performance as Alma. People have always been telling me that there's a little Tallulah in me, and now I see it."
As if doing two plays in three months wasn't enough to keep Marvel busy, add in the fact that she's a newlywed: She married her companion of 14 years, actor Bill Camp in early September. What made them finally take the plunge? "We got married after considerable consideration because it seemed like the right time," she tells me, "and it's been really great. I love calling him 'husband,' though I can never stop laughing when I say it. Bill and I are both very tempestuous personalities. If we'd done it earlier, we could've been on the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton track, married to and divorced from each other seven times."
SETTLING THE SCORE
Last year's main contenders for the Best Score Tony Award are up for a rematch of sorts on November 29, but this time the grand prize is an audience. Tony winners Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, the writers of Avenue Q, will be performing together at Birdland (click here for more information). Meanwhile, Stephen Schwartz, who was nominated for the sixth time for the smash hit Wicked, is expected to be at the Manhattan Center for the World AIDS Day concert of his 1972 musical Pippin. The wonderfully talented Michael Arden stars in the title role, and the cast also includes Laura Benanti, Darius de Haas, Billy Porter, Kate Shindle, Julia Murney, Terrence Mann, Charles Busch, Ben Vereen, and Rosie O'Donnell.
THE GRAY ZONE
Many dreams have come true for Tamyra Gray in the past two years: a finalist spot on TV's American Idol, a recurring role on the TV series Boston Public, and a hit CD (The Dreamer). Now, she's taken over the starring role of Priya in the musical Bombay Dreams. While Gray isn't Indian, she sees more than a few similarities between herself and her character. "Priya is this very independent filmmaker who doesn't want to abide by the rules," she tells me over lunch at Khyber Grill, "and I've always wanted to do my own thing with music. I've never been interested in following anyone else's format. I was so lucky that my record company let me put out the album I wanted to make, which allowed me to show my artistry and not worry so much about what would be a hit on the radio."
She also considers herself lucky to be working with her co-stars. "This cast has been so welcoming and extraordinary," she says. "I hear that's not always the case with other shows." Gray saw Bombay Dreams three times before stepping into the part earlier this month, "but I didn't want to see it more than that because I wanted to develop Priya on my own. I've created this whole back story, especially about her relationship with her father."
Gray has very strong relationships with her own family -- her mother lives in Georgia, her dad in Maryland -- many of whom will be here with her throughout the holiday season. On Thanksgiving, they'll be getting up early -- though perhaps not as early as Gray -- to watch her perform with her castmates in Herald Square as part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. "Originally, I was going to cook for Thanksgiving," she says, "but since I have to be up at 5am and since we have two shows the day before, I asked my mom if it was okay if we just went out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving. But I will definitely be cooking for Christmas!"
As usual, Charles Dickens' ghosts of Christmases past, present, and yet-to-come will dominate the holiday theatrical season. North Shore Music Theatre's 16th production of A Christmas Carol runs December 3-24 and the McCarter Theatre in Princeton presents its take on the holiday classic (click here for details) December 7-24. Meanwhile, playwright Marvin Kaye has written an unofficial sequel to the story called The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge; it will be on view at the 78th Street Lab from November 26 through December 18.
If you want star power, NBC is airing its version of A Christmas Carol -- adapted from the Alan Menken-Lynn Ahrens musical version that played Madison Square Garden annually for 10 years -- on November 28, with Broadway vets Kelsey Grammer, Jason Alexander, Jesse L. Martin, Ruthie Henshall, and Jane Krakowski in the leads. If you want to see Krakowski live and in person, you'll have your chance in 2005: The adorable Tony-winning actress will do a one-night concert as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series on February 1 and she is rumored to be in the cast of Hitchcock Blonde, which is expected to hit Broadway in the spring.
LOST IN THE STARS
Recently spotted: Hairspray pals Marc Shaiman and Jackie Hoffman, waiting backstage at New York City Opera to see the divine Eartha Kitt after the Sunday night performance of Cinderella...Alison Fraser, checking out Tuesday afternoon's reading of the lovely new musical The Mistress Cycle at St. Clement's...Martin Short, Andrea Martin, and Harris Yulin , taking in the Wednesday evening performance of Democracy...David Rockwell, who's designing the sets for All Shook Up and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, laughing out loud at Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance! on Saturday night...Martha Plimpton, Anita Gillette, Scott Rudin, and Danny Burstein enjoying the Sunday afternoon Encores! Bash at City Center.
[To contact Brian Scott Lipton directly, e-mail him at BSL@theatermania.com.]