Playing the Mame game...
Charles Nelson reports the latest scoops and gossip on new roles, old roles, and rolling with all the latest casting punches.
"We're waiting," says director Rob Marshall when asked if Barbra Streisand is going to star in his ABC musical adaptation of Mame. "When she gets the script in her hand, she'll okay it and then she'll say if she'll do it or not--but it's looking very good." Right, now La Streisand is committed to the project only as executive producer, but it was she who sought Marshall for the project after she caught his impressive version of Annie on TV. And Streisand, being a card-carrying director herself, knows a good director when she sees one.
"We've already had a little talk about that," Marshall admits, "and she said, 'I really want you to direct me in this, Rob. I don't want to direct myself. In fact, I'll never direct myself again. I'll either direct or I'll be in it.' So that was nice to hear."
While adapter Peter (Analyze This, What Planet Are You From?) Tolan is banging out a presentable script to submit to Ms. S., Marshall is focusing on his Disney feature, Enchanted, which begins in animation and then fades to live action after 10 minutes; "It's about a heroine who wants to leave the animated world and come to New York," he says. As for the legit stage, Marshall expects to be back on Broadway in the 2001 season with a musical version of the John Waters' cult film Hairspray. Scott Wittman is doing the lyrics and South Park's Marc Shaiman the music.
ON DISPLAY AND UNDER WRAPS
What former Broadway nun will be Donna Murphy's sister Eileen in the upcoming Encores! presentation of Wonderful Town--if only her producers will just let her out of their show?
STRIPPIN', GRIPPIN', PIPPIN, AND TRIPPIN'
"I continue to lay the groundwork for the 2003 season," beams Roger Bart, last season's Tony Award winner as Featured Actor in a Musical for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. (He played a certain beagle). Translation: a lot of readings of potential musicals--The Full Monty (with book by Terrence McNally, score by rocker David Yazbek), Say Yes (with music by Wally Harper, helmed by casting director Jay Binder), and The Big Street (music by Alan Menken, book by Warren Leight).
About the only musical workshop Bart isn't participating in is the one for Little Women, which director Nick Corley is conducting April 6, 7 and 8 at the Westbeth Theatre Center. Jan Maxwell of The Sound of Music and A Doll's House stars as Marmee, and Kerry O'Malley of the Encores! mounting of Promises, Promises will play Jo March. Allan Knee did the book, Kim Oler the music, and Alison Hubbard the lyrics. Randall L. Wreghitt, who's co-producing the show with Dani Davis and Jason Howland, sends the show to Boston for tryouts in September, aiming for a New York opening in November.
More from the casting files: Jack Noseworthy will play the title role in Paper Mill's Pippin and Charlotte Rae just signed up for Berthe, the role famously created by the late Irene Ryan. The production raided the Encores! Tenderloin for two more main-ingredients: Sara Gettelfinger for the role of Fastrada, and Rob Ashford for choreographer (he's also doing the upcoming Thoroughly Modern Millie). Rehearsals for Pippin start May 11.
Currently at Paper Mill, the boys of Old Heidelberg are lifting their voices and mugs in The Drinking Song--and, if you think that's politically incorrect now, consider that the tune debuted during Prohibition! The Student Prince, the longest-running Broadway musical of the '20s, is getting a rare, lusty-lunged revival with Brandon Jovanovich of the opera world and Christiane Noll of Jekyll & Hyde in the cast. Key support comes from Jerome Hines, Eddie Bracken, Jane Connell, William McCauley, Glory Crampton, and Susan Spiedel.
Since the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman Wise Guys won't be happening this season--it's now in Harold Prince's court, presumably for repairs--stars Victor Garber and Nathan Lane are settling for wisecrackers: They'll co-star in Showtime's cinemization of Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which director Richard Benjamin will shoot in Toronto in April. Like My Favorite Year (which Benjamin also directed), the show is a light facsimile of backstage life at Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows during TV's infancy during the early '50s. Lane is repeating his version of Caesar, and Garber will be doing the Larry Gelbart role originated on Broadway by John Slattery (who, as it happen, will also be on board himself for the project, but in another role).
Lane and the divine Christine Baranski are putting their lips together, teeth apart again--first to co-host This Is Your Song: Broadway Sings Elton John, a concert benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at the New Amsterdam on April 3, and then to co-star in The Man Who Came to Dinner, the Kaufman and Hart classic which director Jerry Zaks is reviving for the Roundabout this June. The casting for this comedy keeps getting funnier: Terry (Last Night of Ballyhoo) Beaver and Linda (Damn Yankees) Stephens as Lane's reluctant hosts, the Stanleys; Lewis J. (Minnie's Boys) Stadlen as Banjo; and Byron (Waste) Jennings as Beverly.
THE HIGH ART OF HECKART
"It's wearing," admits actress Eileen Heckart, 81, regarding the tour de force she's delivering six times a week in The Waverly Gallery. She's telling intimates that this will be her last play, and it's a great performance to ride out on.
Meantime, her son--Luke Yankee, 40--is about to make his New York directing debut. A producer-director in Los Angeles who previously ran the Long Beach Civic Light Opera, Yankee will stage an Off-Broadway political comedy at American Place Theatre, John Dooley's High Infidelity; it's about a philandering President, of all things. The producers want to sneak it in before the election. "They'd like Barbara Eden to play the First Lady," says Yankee, "and I'm hoping someone like Charles Kimbrough or Victor Garber will play the President-Elect." Rehearsals begin by Memorial Day for a July 4 opening.
Shirl Bernheim, who's two years younger than Heckart, puts in a full eight performances a week as Linda Lavin's mother in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Hers is quite an astonishing comeback: Last year, she was struck by a car and spent months in rehab. Indeed, the stagehands at Manhattan Theatre Club move her around the stage during the scene changes like a gold shipment--because stage gold is what she is. It would almost seem as if she's borrowed a page from the last play she was in, The Old Lady's Guide to Survival, with June Havoc--a topic that starts Bernheim grousing about John Simon: "He didn't even mention me--and it was a two-character play!"