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Strike Out

David Finkle reflects on the Tinseltown-to-Broadway stampede that never really was. logo
Eric McCormack
in The Music Man
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Remember just a few months back, when show-biz insiders were happily predicting that the threatened Screen Actors Guild strike was an ill wind that would blow Manhattan theater some good? The thought was that thesps who commit themselves nearly full-time to movies and television might dedicate their involuntary vacation time to treading the boards--whether or not they have stage training. But once the strike turned into one of the year's big non-events, that influx didn't occur.

Or did it? There are those who point to the Public Theater's production of The Seagull and insist that lining up Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, John Goodman, and Marcia Gay Harden was a direct result of industry worries. "An anomaly," corrects Carole Fineman, a Public spokesperson. She maintains that Mike Nichols' Chekhov treatment was put together some time ago, for the most part by Streep; indeed, Fineman says, the major effect of the non-strike on the production was the disappearance of Allison Janney, who had to return to The West Wing and forfeit her role of Masha to Harden. Fineman concedes that another Public production, Top Dog/Underdog, did benefit from the potential Tinseltown turmoil, since Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright decided to make themselves available for Suzan-Lori Parks' demanding two-hander.

But that about does it for big names coming to New York auditoriums--unless you count celebs like Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, and Mike Myers, who graced the audience for the Seagull's rained-out opening night. The presence on Broadway in recent months of Tom Selleck in A Thousand Clowns, Brooke Shields in Cabaret, Jon Lovitz and Larry Miller in The Dinner Party and Crystal Bernard in Annie Get Your Gun might be perceived as having been expedited by the possibility of a SAG strike, but who knows if any of these actors had TV or film projects brewing in the first place?

Yes, there were some tantalizing might-have-beens that, in the end, weren't. Casting director Bernard Telsey is amused to recall that when the strike was looming, many Hollywood recognizables and/or their representatives "were calling non-stop to say, 'We are interested in making the commitment to theater.' " Who were they? "Nobody I'm allowed to mention," Telsey responds. Anyway, he reports, such interest evaporated when the strike didn't happen.

Howie Cherpakov, who spends most of his time casting Chicago, terms the pre-strike period "an interesting phenomenon." He suggests that "everyone was playing both ends against the middle. They didn't want to commit to anything until they knew there was going to be a strike." Cherpakov makes a distinction between movie actors and television actors, noting that tube talent such as Will and Grace's Eric McCormack--who did a stint in The Music Man this summer--knew they'd have their annual hiatus, strike or not, and were more eager to consider an East coast stay. (He names Dharma and Greg star Jenna Elfman as one possible who didn't pan out.)

Tom Selleck (r) with Nicolas King
in A Thousand Clowns
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Others in the biz feel that the potential strike hardly even made a blip on the Gotham radar screen. Publicist/producer Jeffrey Richards says that the question of whether or not a strike would occur had no bearing on any show with which he's involved. (That would include A Thousand Clowns with Tom Selleck.) Daryl Roth, one of the Tale of the Allergist's Wife producers, infos that Valerie Harper has now replaced Linda Lavin not because she was fleeing the strike but because "we were looking around for someone who was right for the role. I don't think [the possibility of a strike] altered our plans."

The upshot seems to be that the circumstance of Hollywood's glamorous deigning to play-act for lack of other work failed to materialize. Theater-trained movie and TV stars like Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Calista Flockhart, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who consider performing live to be their life's blood, will undoubtedly be seen on the boards again. The same may be true of Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose appearance a year or two ago in Cabaret probably has a lot to do with her decision to take over from Mary Louise Parker in Proof. As for the strike that wasn't, Telsey concludes, "It's old news."

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