Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years gets less personal, Elaine Stritch outshines Bea Arthur, and Peter Cincotti grows up quickly.
Although producers Arielle Tepper and Marty Bell assure any and all inquirers that everything is cool and comfortable with Jason Robert Brown's ex regarding The Last Five Years, the musical he made of their marital mess, the show now previewing at the Minetta Lane for a March 3 opening won't be exactly the same one that Chicago raved about.
Specifically, Brown has been tinkering with the lyrics of the song he expected to be the big hit from the score--the first one done by Norbert Leo Butz. In Chicago, it was called "I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You." Now, it's known as "Jamie's Song." Brown has also been erasing the Irish in the role played by Sherie René Scott (the former Kathleen is now called Kathy). Everyone involved is very sensitive to the wants of the ex, and understandably so: It was her threatened lawsuit that caused Lincoln Center to jettison its scheduled production of The Last Five Years. Tepper and Bell caught the show on the rebound.
Also altered since its Chicago lift-off is Sweet Smell of Success, which goes into previews February 26 at the Martin Beck--but don't expect the character played by Barbara Nichols in the film on which the musical is based to miraculously reappear. The bad buzz from The Windy City was that book writer John Guare had made a mistake in writing the role out of the show. If ever there was a part this side of Fantine (Les Misérables) and Madame Hortense (Zorba) that would have had Tony stamped all over it, it's this bimbo airhead, who is used as a sexual pawn in the nasty power plays of Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis/Brian d'Arcy James).
STRITCH TRUMPS ARTHUR
Will the real Golden Girl please stand up? Broadway had its pick this week. On Sunday, 75-year-old Bea Arthur bowed at the Booth in Just Between Friends. Four days later, 77-year-old Elaine Stritch, who lost the part that Arthur won in The Golden Girls because she smart-mouthed the sitcom's creator, laid siege to the Neil Simon in her own show, At Liberty.
Comparisons being odiously irresistible to reviewers, not a few members of the fourth estate chimed in with cheers for Stritch and criticisms for Arthur. It's possible that Bea's missteps wouldn't have been so conspicuous had she not opened just as Elaine was raising the bar for the whole one-person-show shebang. And talk about shebang! They don't come any better than this revelatory and relevant revelry. Bea, by comparison, offers the K-Mart version of this type of show--an easy-to-take (or leave) Teflon entertainment that winds up telling you nada. To Bea or not to Bea, that is the question.
There is no question that Stritch will get a Tony this year, but in what category? Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical? A special award for this show specifically or for lifetime achievement? Either way, her 45-years-in-the-making Tony is ready. Now, I'll leave you with this dishy question: Which one of these grandes dames phoned the other and magnanimously welcomed her back to Broadway...and which one did not return the call?
HELLO, 174TH STREET
The show that put Mel Miller's Musicals Tonight! series on the map for me was its aggressively cheery revival of Joseph Stein and Stan Daniels' seldom-seen So Long, 174th Street (1963), with George S. Irving reprising his original role and Jana Robbins in dazzling, showstopping support. Both, I'm happy to note, are back on board for the show's repeat on February 24 and 25 at Musicals Tonight!'s regular stand, the MainStage at the 14th Street Y. (Tickets for this benefit performance for the nonprofit organization are $75 a piece; call 212-362-5620 for more information.)
In this musical take on Carl Reiner's 1958 memoir Enter Laughing, the boy Reiner is played by Little Me's Josh Prince. Also featured are Julia Murney, David Sabella, KT Sullivan, Kenny Raskin, Liz Casasola, Matthew Ellison, Andrew Gitzy, Rachel Hale, Liz Muller, and Ed Prostak.
Incidentally, Miller has much to roar about these days: He just got the rights to do The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd, and it will lead off his season in October.
YOUNG, YOUNG, YOUNG MEN
Playing the Montreux Jazz Festval at 16? Headlining the Algonquin's Oak Room at 18? I could kvetch and moan, and I refuse to gush, but Peter Cincotti has arrived.
His publicist pushes the highly commercial statistic that Cincotti is the youngest headliner in the Algonquin's 100-year history, but don't go for that; go for the music. His heartfelt Erroll Garner tribute is sweet and the two songs he wrote himself are more than promising. With the estimable David Finck, Warren Oder, and Scott Kreitzer in support, Cincotti swings like a pendulum. He's musical as hell, and much more interesting than the now-disappointing Harry Connick was at his age. Let's hope this Columbia freshman finishes school and stays level-headed so that we may get to keep him a while.
The other young heartthrob in town is John Barrowman, who just opened his show Reflections From Broadway down at Arci's Place. Wags will be calling him The Singing Tom Cruise, I'm afraid, because he now bears an eerie physical resemblance to the film star (something I never noticed when Barrowman was appearing in Putting It Together and Sunset Boulevard). Eventually, though it takes time, he gets beyond the Cruise connection to exhibit his own brand of charm--and, of course, Tom should only sing like that. J.B. offers a very romantic evening at Arci's. Talk about your perfect date show!