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I Wood... Woodn't You?

Laura Benanti, Vanessa Williams, John McMartin, and company prepare for their journey Into the Woods. logo

Laura Benanti in The Sound of Music

Well, when you think about it, Laura Benanti has led rather a charmed life on Broadway--out of nowhere and into The Sound of Music and Swing!. So it's almost logical that she'll play Cinderella in the new production of Into the Woods that will go into rehearsal December 10, play at L.A.'s Ahmanson from February 1 through March 24, and--in all probability--come to Broadway a month later. The original director and (with Stephen Sondheim) co-author of the show, James Lapine, is helming and revising the show for this go-round. The production's Narrator/Mysterious Stranger will be John McMartin, who's currently in Chicago playing Chita Rivera's doomed foil in the long-time-in-coming liftoff of Kander and Ebb's The Visit.

Vanessa Williams and Stephen DeRosa have already been posted for Woods' Witch and Baker roles, respectively. In this new version, the two princes will have a different configuration: Originally, Robert Westenberg earned his Tony nomination doubling as the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince; now, that prince will be played exclusively by Gregg Edelman (currently singing about the vices of marijuana Off-Broadway in Reefer Madness). The Wolf will be paired with Rapunzel's Prince and played by Triumph of Love's Christopher Sieber, who personally doesn't care how they slice and dice it as long as he gets to sing "Agony" (he does). Sieber was in high school when the show's original cast recording came out, and he played it ad infinitum. "It's kinda the catalyst that got me to New York in the first place," he admits. "I got to talk to Bob Westenberg and I told him, 'I listened to you, and that inspired me enough to get my ass out of Minnesota and on a plane to New York.' It's a favorite show--and score--so this is like a dream job for me."



The producers of Urinetown, known collectively as The Dodgers, are cultivating theatrical crops in two other towns and hope to bring them to bloom on Broadway. The Cleveland Playhouse is the launching pad for Lone Star Love, a musical retelling of The Merry Wives of Windsor written and performed by The Red Clay Ramblers, the country-western aggregate introduced in Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind. Jay O. Sanders (in the Falstaff slot), Brenda Braxton, and John Jellison head the cast.

The other Dodger hopeful, True Home, is also country-flavored; it comes from Cass Morgan of Pump Boys and Dinettes fame, and it premieres October 17 at the Charlotte Rep. Morgan will share the stage with Big River's Daniel Jenkins and Shenandoah's Maureen Silliman. The three will be sitting on stools, telling tales and singing songs by Stephen Schwartz, Jeanine Tesori, and others. There is no dancing per se, so Urinetown's universally cheered choreographer John Carrafa is billing himself as director this time out.

"It's a wonderful, heartfelt, warm, healing show," says Carrafa, who has some personal healing to address: He lost a brother-in-law in the World Trade Center tragedy. ("He didn't work there. He just happened to have a meeting there on that particular morning.") A friend of Cabaret emcee Matt McGrath suffered a similar fate. When he turned up missing, pals went to his apartment and found a date book listing a meeting at the WTC.



The aforementioned Into the Woods--for which John Carrafa will revert to choreographer--is still casting around for a Jack, as in "Jack and the Beanstalk." But the folks at CBS have found their man (or boy): Ethan Hawke will play Jack in an upcoming TV movie updating the beloved fairy tale. "It's 400 years later, and the giants want their stuff back," summarizes Hawke in a sentence that sounds like a TV Guide plot synopsis.

Ethan Hawke and Arliss Howard in The Late Henry Moss
(Photo: Susan Johann)
Currently, Hawke is circling two media at once: He's the rookie partner of rogue cop Denzel Washington in Training Day, bowing October 5 in film houses; Off-Broadway, he's engaged with Arliss Howard in epic sibling rivalry as sons of The Late Henry Moss. Though Hawke has yet to make his Broadway bow, he hopes to check off that achievement with Camino Real, which he did at Williamstown Theater Festival a few summers ago to considerable acclaim. "That's a tough play to produce on Broadway," he admits. "It's very expensive. I'd love to do it in New York, but you need to put a lot of pressure on Lincoln Center!"



The flitty, flighty Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach is flying high again, providing one-third of the Rude Entertainment that Paul Rudnick has concocted for the Drama Dept. to dispense at its Greenwich House plant through October 21. Peter Bartlett, who originated the title role when the piece debuted a few years ago in Ensemble Studio Theater's one-act marathon, is back mincing it up as Mr. C. In the second of the three one-acts, Very Special Needs, he and Neal Huff play a gay couple who adopt an unconventional child from Europe. The third play, On the Fence, concerns "humanity's most enduring topics: life, death, and celebrity" but, otherwise, is a well-kept secret. Director Christopher Ashley promises that the first moment of it "will be an event".

Bartlett has served Rudnick hilariously in the past as a sterling Sterling in Jeffrey and a flamboyantly fey Pharaoh in The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, but not everyone has kept up with his career. He tells of once visiting Glenn Close backstage after Sunset Boulevard--they met as actors just starting out in NYC--and she asked if he'd stayed in the business. Replied Peter: "I'm not an international star, but there have been sightings!"



You know gay parenting is a good idea whose time has come when it gets a ribbing from Rudnick. There are several prominent examples of it on the other side of the New York footlights. For example, Side Man producer Peter Manning and Lincoln Center executive André Bishop adopted a daughter from Fresno. They then referred their adoption agency to Contact hoofer Sean Martin Hingston and his partner, TV producer Brad Hurtado, who subsequently found their daughter in San Antonio.

This subject is addressed in On the Kid, a two-hour HBO movie based on columnist Dan Savage's book about two men who adopt a baby. The adapter is Angels in America actor-turned-playwright David Marshall Grant (Snakebit, Current Events). Grant also wrote, with Nine to Five's Patricia Resnik, the upcoming CBS telefilm The Jenifer Estess Story, about the Naked Angels theater founder and her battle with ALS, an incurable motor neurological disease. Laura San Giacomo has the title role; Jane Kaczmarek and Annabella Sciorra are her sisters, Valerie and Meredith. Valerie Estess and Snakebit actor Geoffrey Nauffts wrote the story on which the script is based. Jace Alexander, who has directed Law and Order and Ally McBeal, helmed the film.

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