Ask anyone and they'll tell you that life with Radie Harris was no musical comedy. But that hasn't stopped her caretaker and majordomo, Peter Napolitano, from fashioning one around her all the same. He has written the book and lyrics--and Matthew Ward of After the Fair fame has composed the music--for The Lady in Penthouse B, which will enjoy its world premiere April 30 through June 9 at the York Theatre Company. La Radie, the queen mother of gossip columnists, logged almost a half century at The Hollywood Reporter with her Broadway Ballyhoo column. She will be played by Tovah Feldshuh, one of our wisest and wickedest comediennes.
For purposes of musical comedy, Napolitano has turned himself into an out-of-work actress who must endure indentured indignities as Madame's handmaiden, and that part will be done by another gifted Tony contender: Liz Callaway. The rest of the cast consists of four gentlemen who will field all the other roles that come up in the show, everything from the actress's agent to Jimmy Fiddler. The director is Jay Berkow. It promises to be a zesty, slightly camp event. Tally ho, Ballyhoo!
GILBERT & GUITTARD
You know Laurence Guittard as a Broadway leading man, from his Tony-nominated Carl-Magnus in A Little Night Music to Curly in the last Main Stem revival of Oklahoma! You probably didn't know that he is also a composer of note. Few do, and their small number includes those who turned out last Monday at The Theatre at Saint Peter's for a reading of His Excellency.
For the past two years, Guittard has been writing music for this obscure comedy by W.S. Gilbert (yes, he of Gilbert & Sullivan fame), replacing Arthur Sullivan's original score. Out of his own pocket, Guittard funded the presentation, directed it, and hired 25 of the best singers in town to do it justice--among them, Sarah Uriarte Berry of Beauty and the Beast, Stephen Mo Hanan of Cats, Bob Dishy of Flora, the Red Menace and a million other things, and Brandon Jovanovich of the Paper Mill Playhouse's Student Prince and Carousel. The extraordinary Jack Lee handled the musical direction.
"It was a very exciting event," according to Tony Roberts, who narrated the show. "It's one of the funniest plays I ever read, about a fictional magistrate in Denmark who plays practical jokes on the populace and eventually gets caught up in his own canard at the end. I don't know if anything'll happen to it, but it seemed like a successful presentation." The audience included Stephen Sondheim and Christopher Walken--no, not together!
READING THE CLASSICS
The Phantom of the Opera is no longer An American in Paris: Howard McGillin, currently Broadway's masked composer in the Andrew Lloyd Webber long-runner, has been replaced by soap star Michael Park in the Gene Kelly title role for the next reading of the George & Ira Gershwin tunefest, coming up Thursday at Lincoln Center. Pulitzer Prize-winner Wendy Wasserstein adapted Alan Jay Lerner's 1951 Oscar-winning screenplay for the stage, and Tony-winning taskmaster Jerry Zaks will direct. More Tony winners are in the cast: (Bebe Neuwirth and Marian Seldes), plus Adam Arkin. Also in the show are the still-minted Sterlings of Jeffrey, Edward Hibbert and Peter Bartlett.
On the same day, in another part of the musical-comedy forest (the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, home of 42nd Street on 42nd Street), there's another reading of another musicalized classic. That bawdy bodice-ripper Fanny Hill was custom-built for Kristin Chenoweth, and Chenoweth will indeed be on hand to read and sing the part. Ed Dixon, whom you may know as an actor-singer (The Best Man, The Scarlet Pimpernel), is book-and-song writer for the occasion. Mary Stout, always at home in period musicals (Beauty and the Beast, Copperfield, Jane Eyre) will be a natural woman of the 17th century. Other wenches on board: Julia Murney of A Class Act and Glory Crampton of the Paper Mill Carousel. Among the men: Peter Pan's Paul Schoeffler and Roadside's James Hindman. Paper Mill's Robert Johanson will direct.
OF DOGS AND COWBOYS
Reports that Urban Cowboy will be riding that mechanical bull into the Ambassador this spring turn out to be inaccurate. We're talking Texas here, and there's not enough room to accommodate the $4.5 million musical and its cast of 20 there. Instead, the theater has gone to Top Dog/Underdog, the Suzan-Lori Parks two-character opus which starred Jeffrey Wright and Don Cheadle down at The Public. Director George C. Wolfe will be bringing those two uptown to the Ambassador, where he previously brought in 'da noise, brought in 'da funk--after he brings Elaine Stritch: At Liberty to the Neil Simon.
Depending on theater availability, Urban Cowboy's still shootin' for this season. Friday's workshop at Westbeth starred Raúl Esparza, Sandy Duncan, Caroline McMahon, Tom Zemon and, in a role that adapter-director Phil Oesterman created out of whole cloth from the John Travolta movie, B.J. Crosby. Not all will be aboard for Broadway.