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Keeping Up with Jessie

Jessica Lange has thrown over Eugene O'Neill in Chicago and on Broadway for Tennessee Williams in London. logo

Jessica Lange

Two summertime stars of the Delacorte this year--Philip Seymour Hoffman of The Seagull and Billy Crudup of Measure for Measure--are being paged to play Brian Dennehy's sons in Eugene O'Neill's fourth Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, which producer David Richenthal and director Robert Falls are starting up in January at Chicago's Goodman and will be sending to Broadway in March.

But don't expect Jessica Lange to be along for the ride, despite the raves she recently drew in London for this play. She's pleading a "scheduling conflict," though she's actually returning to the West End to strut her Amanda Wingfield before the Brits. The Glass Menagerie, let's face it, is a play that doesn't have to be on her plate right now. The 62-year-old Elizabeth Ashley, who has a full decade on Lange, did a wonderfully well-received Amanda Wingfield in Houston this year and producers were lining up to present her in it on Broadway when--curses!--they discovered that British producer Bill Kenwright had acquired the world rights to The Glass Menagerie for Lange. But Side Man's Robert Sella, who was also critically cheered for his portrayal of Ashley's son, says that the project may somehow eventually make it to New York anyway. Let's hope.



Another shot-down Broadway project--Assassins--still has a pulse. The creators of that decade-old Off-Broadway show, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, immediately canceled its belated Broadway bow after the World Trade Center tragedy--only days before rehearsals were to begin. Now, director Joe Mantello says the cast is going to reassemble and give the show another read-through. He feels the show still has a chance a little farther down the road because of its extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime cast. Those names again: Douglas Sills, Neil Patrick Harris, Denis O'Hare, Raúl Esparza, Mary Catherine Garrison, Alexander Gemignani, Mario Cantone, Becky Ann Baker, John Dossett, Matthew Bennett, James Clow, and Brandon Wardell. As I said, extraordinary.

In the meantime, Esparza has signed up for Cabaret emcee--and, in the fall, you'll find O'Hare with Donald Sutherland and Justin Kirk, reprising their Off-Broadway roles in Jon Robin Baitz's Ten Unknowns at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum prior to Broadway.



Such a sly puss, that Harvey Weinstein. At the opening-night party for The Producers, I asked him who he thought he was fooling, making a contest for the Roxie Hart part in his film version of Chicago. I told him the role, of course, would go to Queen Gwyneth Paltrow of Miramax. Replied Weinstein, with a knowing smile: "You're a smart man." Now, I read that Roxie will be played by Renée Zellweger, who was seven years old when Gwen Verdon first strutted out the role of that celebrity slayer. (If we can't have Goldie Hawn or Sandy Duncan, then Renée will do just fine.)

After 27 years in the planning (and replanning and re-replanning), director-choreographer Rob Marshall will actually get this Kander & Ebb classic before the Miramax cameras beginning December 4. Oscar winner Kathy Bates has the inside-track on the Matron "Mama" Morton role, having turned in an Emmy-nominated Miss Hannigan to Marshall for his TV-movie version of Annie. Mrs. Michael Douglas (Catherine Zeta-Jones) will be Roxie's cellmate-sidekick, Velma Kelly--a part originated by Chita Rivera, who's still doing Kander & Ebb musicals (like The Visit, now, in Chicago). And returning to the musical-comedy field to play shyster lawyer Billy Flynn is former Greaser Richard Gere.


Donna McKechnie

Donna McKechnie, the woman who beat Gwen and Chita out of the Tony Award in 1976--and it was Gwen's last shot at equaling Julie Harris's record of five Tony wins--has returned to Arci's Place for another terrific stint through October 13. An Evening with Donna McKechnie: My Musical Comedy Life is a toe-tapping autobiography; Arci's owner John Miller even enlarged his stage so the lady could properly and persuasively strut her stuff. But is it a theater piece, you might rightly wonder? Raved Ben Brantley, out of his usual venue, for The Paper of Record: "Donna McKechnie gives you the privileged feeling of watching a star from the wings of a big theater."

The show played like gangbusters on Tuesday when it was recently presented for one night only at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Among the converted: John McDaniel, who promptly got Donna booked for The Rosie O'Donnell Show next week. (When you're hot, you're hot!) McKechnie is a tough act to follow, but Arci's will try with its own "dynamic duo" of the redoubtable Margaret Whiting and her precocious protege, Paul Bernhardt, October 16-November 3.



James Beaman (who, on occasion, is Lauren Bacall) and Goldie Dver are spending their Thursdays at 8 at Don't Tell Mama in a show called Crazy World, leafing lightly through the songbook of Leslie Bricusse, the Oscar-winning composer/lyricist whose credits include Dr. Dolittle and Victor/Victoria. I talked to the animals, and I have assurance that Crazy World won't include "Louie Says."

But the big cabaret-cum-theater news of the moment is HeartSong: The Heroes' Concert, which will happen twice (at 7:30 and 10:30) at the Bottom Line on Monday night, October 8, to benefit the families of the fire, police, and emergency-service workers killed during rescue efforts at the World Trade Center. Erv Raible, a first-class cabaret booker and former Firebird firefly, pulled this event together with Back Stage critic John Hoglund. The stars scheduled to participate range from Tom Andersen to Bea Arthur to Charles Busch to Linda Eder to Judy Kaye to Liza Minnelli to Carol Woods. For more information, click here to read the TheaterMania "Buzz Lines" piece on this very special event.



The Actors Company Theater (TACT) will tackle The Waltz of the Toreadors at the New-York Historical Society for three swirls (October 5 and 8 at 7:30, October 7 at 2:00). James Murtaugh, who was so superb at the bogus British colonel in the last TACT production (Separate Tables), will play the womanizing general, and Cynthia Harris is the harpy he's miserably married to; the cast also includes Simon Jones and Francesca DiMauro.


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