Desperately Seeking Julie
Paper Mill seeks a new Julie Andrews, The Tap Dance Kid returns, and Porgy and Bess gets short shrift...again.
Half of Julie Andrews' Broadway career--the succulent middle portion, which included My Fair Lady and Camelot--appears to be passing in review at the Paper Mill Playhouse these days. Her last Main Stem show (Victor/Victoria) has already been done there and her first (The Boy Friend) remains a lively option. But Julie Andrewses don't grow in bunches, as director Robert Johanson is now learning in trying to find a proper Eliza Doolittle for his revival of Lady at Paper Mill beginning June 7. (We'd nominate Anne Hathaway, Andrews' granddaughter in The Princess Diaries, who was saying in this space only two weeks ago that she'd love to do the part.)
George S. Irving, who has done much as Alfred Doolittle in previous My Fair Lady reincarnations, will tackle Pickering this time out, leaving the marvelous Ed Dixon to grapple with Liza's marriage-phobic dad. Freddie Eynsford-Hill will be played by Max Von Essen, and the production's Professor Henry Higgins has yet to be determined.
Andrews' other Lerner & Loewe show, Camelot, is looking very likely for Paper Mill's next season, which will lift off September 4 with a Miss Saigon directed by Mark S. Hoebee. Johanson anticipates no problem in casting Camelot--but, again, it's not easy.
HATHAWAY WENT THATAWAY
Since her successful (if not downright sensational) arrival in the Encores! revival of Carnival three weeks ago, the aformentioned, 19-year-old Anne Hathaway has been hotly courted by casting directors. She will probably bolt to Londontown to play Madeleine in the better-late-than-never movie version of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Charlie Hunnam, who scored big in the British edition of Queer as Folk, will essay the title role that won Roger Rees a Tony 20 years ago; the crippled Smike will be the balletic Billy Elliot, Jamie Bell; and the evil Mr. Squeers has been assigned to Jim Broadbent, who should have an Oscar by then for his truly supporting performance in Iris. The cleverest casting coup of all? The head of the Crummies theatrical troupe and his wife will be played by none other than Nathan Lane and Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna)! As Rodgers & Hammerstein said, there's nothing like a dame, is there?
Douglas McGrath, who was last in London lensing Jane Austen's Emma, will get the cameras rolling on this Charles Dickens cavalcade beginning--no fooling!--on April Fool's Day.
KID TO BOY
While nobody was looking, The Tap Dance Kid grew up into a Golden Boy. Alfonso Ribeiro, who originated the title role in the first-named show, will be doing the title role in the second when Encores! gets around to resurrecting it March 21-24 at City Center. His love interest, Lorna Moon, will be played by Anastasia Barzee, who has done Jekyll & Hyde and Miss Saigon on Broadway. Paul Butler, from Broadway's A Few Good Men, is the Kid's dad who opposes his son's show business aspirations. (Don't they all? That was the conflict, Ribeiro will tell you, in The Tap Dance Kid.)
Ribeiro comes to Golden Boy as The Comeback Kid; this will be his first New York stage appearance since he left The Tap Dance Kid in 1984 to somebody named Savion Glover, who stayed on theatrical track and now has a Tony (for choreography) to show for it. Ribeiro went west to TV land for Silver Spoons and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
PENN'S PULITZER-PRIZE PENMANSHIP
Golden Boy, which had songs by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams that Sammy Davis Jr. socked across with authority in 1965, is the only Broadway musical Arthur Penn ever directed. He got involved because Clifford Odets, who had written the straight play on which the show is based, died midway through the musicalization--and that task was taken over by William Gibson, with whom Penn had worked quite memorably on Broadway (The Miracle Worker, Two for the Seesaw, et al). Gibson would only consider the job if Penn agreed to direct. He did, and the result was a Tony contender for Best Musical, not to mention Sammy Davis, Jr.'s best Broadway moment.
Penn, now 79 and storming Broadway a 10th time (with Fortune's Fool, opening April 2 at the Music Box, starring Alan Bates and Frank Langella), admits that the idea of directing musicals petrified him. "I did have one slight brush with the musical theater," he says...but it wound up being a Pulitzer Prize-winning brush. "I was reading a biography of Fiorello LaGuardia one day and I thought, 'Gee, this would make a wonderful musical.' So I wrote up the idea for how to do it and sold it to Hal Prince. I get royalties for Fiorello! but no credit. I never have. No reason to take credit; George Abbott directed and did a wonderful job on it."
THE PORGY PINCH
PBS has put everyone in a tizzy by requesting that the New York City Opera production of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess be shortened for its live telecast on March 20. NYCO already performs a heavily if intelligently cut version of the lengthy score, but the network apparently wants further excisions in order to ensure that the curtain will come down no later than 11pm and there will be no golden overtime for the unions. Problems, problems, nothing but problems when it comes to putting this property on film or videotape.
I don't know whether they weren't getting enough money in royalties or if the Gershwin estate simply disliked the rather wooden Nathaniel Merrill production that the Metropolitan Opera mounted for the work's 50th anniversary back in 1985, but that was the last chance we had for a video of a major staging. Of course, it certainly didn't help to have disappointing performances by Simon Estes and Grace Bumbry (a little late at that point in her career for Bess).