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Loose Lips

Elaine Stritch sings, the Bergmans talk, and second-generation performers shine on NYC stages. logo
Elaine Stritch
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
It probably won't surprise you to hear that Elaine Stritch isn't really enjoying being at liberty. "I would do anything to do a straight dramatic play on Broadway right now," Stritch told an audience of fans during a recent talk sponsored by the League of Professional Theater Women at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. "But since no one is calling, I'm going to do a cabaret show, which I know I can do because I am a good actress."

That show will debut on March 4 at Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of this winter's American Songbook series and then will be seen in an extended run in the fall of 2005 at the Café Carlyle. Stritch didn't reveal her song list, but she did offer a glimpse into her musical philosophy. "Unless you're really clever, I don't think a woman my age should be singing love songs like 'I Didn't Know What Time It Was,' because I do know what time it is," she says. "But I can sing love songs to an audience."

Stritch probably won't be asking her old pal Stephen Sondheim for advice on the program: "I only call him twice a year, because I am scared of him," she says, adding that the two have very similar outlooks on life. "Once I asked him on the phone, 'What did you do today?' and he said, 'I got up and went to the piano to see if I had any talent.'"

Naturally, the evening will be chock full of anecdotes about her meetings with the rich and famous. One story that definitely will be told concerns her ill-fated date with Frank Sinatra. Here's the short version: The date began at the home of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, her co-stars in the forgotten 1959 movie The Perfect Furlough, and ended with Stritch dining at Hamburger Hamlet with Sinatra's limousine driver. But while the date was short and less than sweet, Sinatra remembered his conversation with Stritch when they met again many years later. "That's all that mattered, that he remembered me," she says.

If you've been wondering what Mark Russell has been doing since leaving P.S. 122, the answer arrives this week. He has curated the Under the Radar festival, a presentation of eight shows at four different performance spaces from January 7-10. Among the highlights are sure to be Cynthia Hopkins's Accidental Nostalgia and Herbert Siguenza's Cantinflas, both at St. Ann's Warehouse in Dumbo, plus two shows based on famous novels: the award-winning Elevator Repair Service's new two-part piece Gatz, based on The Great Gatsby, at the Performing Garage; and The Foundry Theatre's K.I. From "Crime", based on Crime and Punishment, at the Freight Entrance Theater. Both of those shows continue in commercial engagements through January 30.

New York City theatergoers have a chance to see several talented second-generation performers on stage this month. Adam Arkin heads the cast of Brooklyn Boy, which begins performances January 13 at the Biltmore; Jessica Capshaw will take over Keri Russell's role in Fat Pig at the Lucille Lortel on January 15; Paul Carlin, son of the great Frances Sternhagen, is in After the Ball, which continues at the Irish Rep through January 30; and Joanna Gleason, daughter of game show legend Monty Hall, is part of the star-studded cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which starts previews at the Imperial on January 31.

The trend will continue throughout the season: Adam Arkin's brother Matthew Arkin will co-star in Moonlight and Magnolias at MTC in February; Lily Rabe, daughter of Jill Clayburgh and David Rabe, will play Annelle in Steel Magnolias, beginning previews mid-March at the Lyceum; and Jeannie Berlin will star in her mom Elaine May's new series of one-acts, After the Night and the Music, at the Biltmore in May.

Marilyn and Alan Bergman
It looks like 2005 will be a very busy year for the award-winning songwriting couple Alan and Marilyn Bergman. This week, they're leaving their California home to participate in the New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend (they will be chatting with critic Stephen Holden on Saturday night), and then they will speak at the memorial for their dear pal Cy Coleman on January 10 at the Majestic Theatre. They'll also be spending quite a bit of time here later this year, as the musical that they wrote with Coleman -- formerly titled Like Jazz -- heads for a Broadway opening in the fall. Now called In the Pocket, the show is a look into the world of jazz from the famous musicians who play it to the people who hang around in clubs, told through original songs.

"When I was a kid, my mother used to take me to those children's concerts on Saturday mornings at Carnegie Hall," says Alan Bergman. "But one day, back in 1938, my brother told me we were going to a different concert at Carnegie Hall and it turned out to be Benny Goodman. I was hooked on jazz ever since." As it happens, the show's creators are all jazz babies: Coleman, of course, was a superb jazz pianist, and book writer Larry Gelbart used to play the saxophone in jazz bands. "I have to say that Cy was the one who saw the future of this show when we presented it for one night at the Kennedy Center in 2002 as a song cycle" notes Alan. "Halfway through the show, he turned to me and said, 'this is not just a one-night creation.'"

The expanded version of the show played to enthusiastic audiences last year at the Mark Taper Forum under the direction of Gordon Davidson. While some of the Los Angeles cast -- which included Lillias White and Patti Austin -- may come to Broadway, the show's new director is Belgian-born Dirk Decloedt, who helped create Céline Dion's extravaganza at the MGM Grand. But perhaps the biggest adjustment has been the title change. "The word 'jazz' seemed to throw people off," says Marilyn Bergman. "Some people didn't want to see the show because they didn't know anything about jazz, and other people just think they hate jazz. Then there were the purists who felt it wasn't truly jazz because we didn't include a song about John Coltrane. But we're not writing the history of jazz; this was never meant to be something scholarly." So how did the new name come about? In the Pocket is a jazz term for the right tempo," says Alan, "and even if people don't know what it means, it sounds provocative"

In The Pocket isn't the only show on the Bergmans' plate. They're in the midst of adapating Paul Gallico's 1966 young adult novel The Man Who Would Be Magic with frequent collaborator Michel Legrand and Rupert Holmes. They may also find themselves working again on their 1978 Broadway musical Ballroom. "Chita Rivera wants to do it very badly," says Marilyn. "And we are in love with that idea. I think it would be great to have the whole thing set in a Latin ballroom; it would give the show a whole new context. And Latin families are very much like Jewish families anyway. Jerome Kass is rewriting the book for Chita. I really hope it happens."

The Bergmans aren't the only ones racking up frequent flier miles this month. The sensational Sam Harris will be in the Big Apple on January 11 for a one-night stand at Joe's Pub before heading back to La-La Land to begin rehearsals for the Reprise! production of Pippin, in which he will take on the role of the Leading Player. Joining him in the title role for this show at the UCLA Playhouse from January 26 through February 6 will be Michael Arden (he played the part brilliantly in the recent New York benefit concert performance of the show), Jean Louisa Kelly, Luba Mason, and Mimi Hines.

Feinstein's at the Regency is offering a double dose of Hairspray leading men -- or should we say leading ladies? -- to end its spring season: Michael McKean will play the swanky spot with wife Annette O'Toole May 24-June 4, and current Edna Turnblad Bruce Vilanch will take the stage June 7-11. They will be preceded at Feinstein's by Tony Award winners Brian Stokes Mitchell (February 1-19) and Chita Rivera (February 22-March 12); talk show host Tony Danza (April 5-16); 2005 Nightlife Award winner Keely Smith (April 19-May 6); and singer Debby Boone (May 10-21), who'll be paying tribute to her late mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney.


[To contact Brian Scott Lipton directly, e-mail him at [email protected].]

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