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A Lotta Lysistrata

Cherry and Christine: dueling Lysistratas! Annette and Patti: dueling Desirées! A Class Act and Once on This Island: a pair of favorites return! logo

Christine Baranski and Cherry Jones: head to head.
"Everything she writes is a lie--and that includes the words 'a' and 'the,'" Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, igniting a defamation lawsuit that ended only with Hellman's death. These famously combative literary lights will duke it out in a new play by Nora Ephron called Imaginary Friends--between incidental songs by that Sweet Smell of Success team, Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia. Director Jack O'Brien will premiere the piece at his Old Globe in San Diego this fall, and if there's something to bring in, he'll bring it in. "I'm the Catholic," proffers Cherry Jones (meaning McCarthy), and Hellman will be played by Christine Baranski. Talk about a delicious duo!

The other big Cherry-versus-Christine news is Lysistrata, which will get a private reading on Monday night at the Manhattan Theatre Club with Baranski doing the sex-strike firebrand that had originally been earmarked for Jones. This version of the Greek classic was adapted by Forum's Larry Gelbart, with songs by Little Shop of Horrors composer Alan Menken and City of Angels lyricist David Zippel, and given the more felicitous title of Sex and the City-State. It was set to premiere May 10-June 9 at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA until ART chief Robert Brustein nixed the project, declaring it too crassly commercial for his ivory towers. Now the original director and production designer, Andrei Serban and Michael Yeargan, will keep the ART dates (and a follow-up booking in Philadelphia, June 15-30) for a Brustein adaptation that hews closer to Aristophanes' original concept and will still star Jones.

"Larry Gelbart wrote a wonderful script for Lysistrata," says Jones, "but Andrei Serban and Michael Yeargan and I could not pull it off and we knew we couldn't, so that tie was severed. I'm sure Larry is upset and he has every right to be, but he's got the best of all possible worlds: Christine is going to be doing the reading on Monday. It's wonderfully vulgar and bawdy, as it should be, and she is going to make that work. I couldn't have made that script work, and one has to know these things--or think they know them. So it's great for Larry. It's a happy ending all the way around. And I hope he realizes that."


Annette Bening

The Big Name buzzing around the role of Desirée Armfeldt in the last show of the Kennedy Center's Stephen Sondheim celebration, A Little Night Music, is that of Annette Bening, who has been too busy making and minding Beatty babies to do her Hedda Gabler on Broadway but might just be able to swing three weeks (August 4-25) in Night Music in D.C. The femmes in this show seem to be falling into place faster than the men: City of Angels Tony-winner Randy Graff will be the Countess, The Capeman's Natascia Diaz will be Petra, and the Beauty half of Beauty and the Beast, Sarah Uriarte Berry, will be Anne. On the male side of the ledger, director Mark Brokaw has only The Full Monty's Danny Gurwin confirmed for Henrik.

Overlapping with this Night Music by three days is another version at Chicago's Ravinia Festival that will topline the stars (George Hearn and Patti LuPone) and director (Lonny Price) of the New York Philharmonic's concert Sweeney Todd. Marc Kudisch and Hollis Resnick will lend support as the Count and Countess, and Sara Ramirez is being paged for Petra.

But, before this happens, Graff, Price, and Ramirez will join the rest of the original Broadway cast of A Class Act (Patrick Quinn, Nancy Anderson, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Donna Bullock, and David Hibbard) for two far-flung post-Broadway dates in Pasadena and Tokyo. During the latter gig, the show will be taped for TV. Blumenkrantz meanwhile is composing songs for a show he calls Fits and Starts, but it's not a vehicle for him; the lead is 10 years younger.



Another original Broadway cast reunion will occur on May 12 at the Winter Garden, for two performances (at 3pm and 8pm): The event is a reprise of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 1990 Tony-nominated Once on This Island. One of the original cast members, Gerry McIntyre, will direct these concerts, which will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Besides McIntyre, the lineup will consist of LaChanze, Jerry Dixon, Andrea Frierson-Toney, Sheila Gibbs, Kecia Lewis, Afi McClendon, Milton Craig Nealy, Nikki Rene, Monique Cintron, Eric Riley, and Ellis E. Williams--plus a guest shot by Tony-winner Lillias White. A portion of the proceeds will go to The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund in memory of Calvin Goodwin, LaChanze's late husband, who died in the World Trade Center disaster.



Here are additions to some casting news we shared last week: Side Show's Norm Lewis and Tabletop's Rob Bartlett will support Alfonso Ribeiro's Golden Boy when the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams-Clifford Odets-William Gibson musical is reprised by Encores! March 21-24. In addition to the previously announced Anastasia Barzee and Paul Bulter, director Walter Bobbie has hired William McNulty, Wayne Pretlow, Thursday Farrar, Michael Potts, Joseph R. Sicari, and Kamar de los Reyes for the show.

Over the river and through the woods at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Paul Schoeffler and Glory Crampton will be Higgins and Eliza in My Fair Lady, opening June 7. They were last seen and heard together there in Maury Yeston's Phantom of the Opera and, before that, they did Carnival for the York Theatre Company. Director Robert Johannson has picked George S. Irving, Ed Dixon, and Max Van Essen to support them.


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