Theater News

All About Divas, Understudies…and the Tao of Michael

More Follies fodder; LEE ROY REAMS loves CHITA RIVERA; CELESTE HOLM is where the heart is; etc.


Since she has the most charming French accent of her generation, it’s not surprising that the Follies producers are pursuing Leslie Caron for the role of Solange (“Ah, Paris!”). Fifi D’Orsay originated the role–and she had the most charming French accent of her generation. Don’t be surprised if Caron does sign on; the idea of a concentrated, cameo-sized star turn in a legendary Stephen Sondheim show seems to appeal to actresses of a certain age. That’s what got the producers Betty Garrett for Hattie (“Broadway Baby”), Polly Bergen for Carlotta (“I’m Still Here”), and Joan Roberts for Heidi (“One More Kiss”); Roberts, you may or may not remember, was the original Laurey opposite Alfred Drake‘s Curly in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark Oklahoma! The only other role still uncast in Follies is one of the two female leads, Phyllis–but negotiations are going on to get Sigourney Weaver, who can sing (though she isn’t often asked to do so) and is lithe and long-stemmed as the original Phyllis, Alexis Smith.


Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera


“I know you have limited writing space so I can sum up what I love about the theater in two words: Chita Rivera.” That’s what Lee Roy Reams said when the press came to preview the Anything Goes he has directed for the Paper Mill Playhouse.

It’s a love that goes back to the mid-’60s, when both Rivera and Reams were in the film version of Sweet Charity–albeit never in the same scene–and it’s the kind of love that spills over on both sides of the footlights; actors working with Rivera are as awed as the audiences who watch her do her stuff. “When we did our first run-through,” Reams said, “I noticed how intense she was. I went up to her, and I said, ‘Chita, you still really care, don’t you?’ She wanted to please the producers and everyone in the room, and to be nice to all of the kids in the show as well.”

The lady simply does not make a false move on stage. She seems to have gone to the Nancy Walker School of Timing–only, more than Walker, Rivera is in a state of perpetual motion. Notice, in this buoyant Paper Mill revival, how she descends a staircase. It’s exactly the way you’re supposed to descend a staircase, only moreso–flashier somehow, and more show-bizzy. At somewhere around 70, Chita Rivera is still the top.



Speaking of the original production of Oklahoma!: The actress who created the role of Ado Annie is still a girl who can’t say no. Celeste Holm is back on the boards, co-starring with Fritz Weaver and Donal Donnelly in Don Juan in Hell, and her star power doubtless has a lot to do with the fact that the play is going extra innings at the Irish Rep.

Meanwhile, Holm’s past is omnipresent these days on a couple of fronts. First and foremost: She is the only major, living cast member of All About Eve, which officially turns 50 (“five oh!”) on October 13, and a lot of media attention has come her way because of that fact–whether she likes it or not. As it happens, she likes it not: It seems she and Bette Davis, bosom buddies for the camera, had an iceberg relationship off the set. Also, Davis galloped off with the picture, though Holm did manage to scratch an Oscar nomination out of that catfight.

A second blast from Holm’s past is the return of her 1944 hit, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Harold Arlen’s Bloomer Girl, which is getting a nice little revival (its first ever in NYC) from Cotton Blossom musicals at the Theater at St. Clement’s Church.



This could well be the year for George Dvorsky, who has reaped raves as Billy Crocker to Rivera’s Reno Sweeney. Next up, he’ll be Steve Lawrence (sort of) to Sally Mayes‘s Eydie Gormé (sort of) in Pete and Keely, a new two-character musical circling for an opening at the Century Center. “Actually, it’s a Steve and Eydie-type duo, not Steve and Eydie themselves,” Dvorsky cautions. “Our couple was big in the ’50s and ’60s, then they divorced, and now they’re reunited for one night by for a live TV special. The show is basically that special–you see us off stage in the wings, waiting to come on. We haven’t seen each other in eight years, and the relationship deteriorates during the show. It’s I Do! I Do! meets Forever Plaid.”

Accordingly, the sets and costumes will be by Ray Klausen and Bob Mackie, a 30-year team who’ve handled those chores for The Carol Burnett Show and other prime time endeavors. Patrick Brady will be musical-directing the 90-minute antic and has come up with some new tunes of his own to go with evergreens like “Lover” and “But Beautiful.”

But before this show flies in New York, its director, Mark Waldrop, must get Game Show up and operative. He puts that into rehearsals on September 18 and starts previewing it on October 10 for an October 25 opening at 45 Bleecker Street. “Game Show is essentially that,” says Waldrop, “a show where the audience participates and wins prizes. But around the edges are the backstage machinations that are going on among the people who run the game show.”

Joel Blum, who had to drop out of the title role of Goodspeed’s George M because of a leg injury early into rehearsals, will play the non-dancing role of a TV cameraman in Game Show while his limb mends. Michael McGrath, Cheryl Stern, and Jeb Browne are the main game players.



There’s quite a face-off going on these days on West 52nd St.: The Music Man is at the Neil Simon, across the street from The Best Man at the Virginia. The latter opens Sunday with a seven-figure advance, thank its lucky stars: Charles Durning, Spalding Gray, Christopher Noth, Elizabeth Ashley, Christine Ebersole, Michael Learned, Jonathan Hadary, Mark Blum, Ed Dixon, Patricia Hodge, and Jordan Lage….There is no shortage of Michaels in Kiss Me, Kate: Tony nominees Berresse and Mulheren top the list; then there’s Michael McCormick, Michael X. Martin, Michael Arnold and–just to be different–Eric Michael Gillett.


Julie Halston
Julie Halston


When Jean Smart excused herself from The Man Who Came to Dinner on September 10 to go west to receive an Emmy for her Frasier guest-shot, her understudy went on and was reportedly super.

Unlike Eve Harrington, however, Julie Halston didn’t have a chance to “send out Indian runners, snatching critics out of bars and steam rooms and museums or wherever they hole up.” The performance was so thoroughly sold out that the publicist had to cut a deal just to get Halston’s husband in! She’s married to Ralph Howard of WINS Radio. (As Miss Julie cracked in her recent FireBird Café engagement, “I gave him 22 minutes, he gave me the world.”)