Theater News

Hitting a New Hytner…

Charles Nelson finds NICHOLAS HYTNER hitting new heights, Contact‘s choreographer going to and Stro, flying feet Center Stage and more.

The man behind Center Stage was nowhere to be seen the other weekend when Columbia Pictures held a press junket in New York for its new dance movie. No,

Hitting the Hytner:Director Nicholas Hytnerand Ethan StiefelPhoto:  Barry Wetcher
Hitting the Hytner:
Director Nicholas Hytner
and Ethan Stiefel
Photo: Barry Wetcher

Nicholas Hytner was otherwise engaged, doing what comes second-nature to him–directing Nicholas Wright’s Cressida in London–and he seems, again, to have done rather well, if early raves are any indication. “It may only be April,” concluded the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer, “but Cressida already looks like a strong contender for both best actor and best play awards. Excuse me while I phone my bookmaker.” The play gingerly broaches the subject of boy actors who played female roles in ye olden days of the 1630s, and Sir Michael Gambon is said to be turning in “a colossal performance” of an agent/manager of just such a boys’ band. This conspicuous success–coupled with the one he scored with Maggie Smith in Alan Bennett‘s The Woman in the Van earlier in the season–means Hytner may be doing some double-duty déjà vu reconstruction for Broadway soon. Meanwhile, the Hytner-staged Miss Saigon just celebrated its 10th anniversary on the Main Stem.

A director who missed almost all of her gala was Susan Stroman. The night her critically cheered Contact moved within Lincoln Center to the bigger, Broadway-qualifying Vivian Beaumont Theater, Stroman was stranded 13 blocks away in River City (i.e., at the Neil Simon, bracing for previews of The Music Man). “I seem to be the only member of the creative team here tonight,” noted the lonely William Ivey Long, who designed the show’s justifiably famous yellow dress. (The fact is, he designed a full dozen such dressed before he deemed the right one perfect, and Deborah Yates carries it beyond that.)

Meanwhile, Karen Ziemba, looking very much The Star in fire-engine red by Vera Wang and a motherlode of diamonds, somehow succeeded in lighting up Tavern on the Green (above and beyond her radiant smile) on the re-opening night. Finally, making a notable Broadway debut–and making it twice–is Jason Antoon, who many don’t realize plays two roles in Contact: Ziemba‘s abusive husband in the second portion of the program, and the dance-club bartender in the third. The crucial difference between these wildly diverse performances, Antoon reveals, is “the gallons of gel that I have to wash out of my hair at intermission.”

With Contact established and

From Center StagePhoto:  Barry Wetcher
From Center Stage
Photo: Barry Wetcher

Cressida settled, Stroman and Hytner will be able to focus on Center Stage, their film collaboration. Aside from steps she taught Meg Ryan for You’ve Got Mail, Stroman makes a major movie-choreographing debut here–and by “major,” I mean a good fourth of the film is bravely consumed with dance of all descriptions. “Nick never made any casting decisions without consulting Stro, and vice versa,” says producer Laurence Mark–and the result is a massive film debut consisting of a bevy of fresh young faces and feet.

Always Aloft:  Ethan StiefelPhoto:  Barry Wetcher
Always Aloft: Ethan Stiefel
Photo: Barry Wetcher

First to be signed was Ethan Stiefel, the son of a Wisconsin prison warden who’s on the brink of becoming the next Baryshnikov; already a sensation as part of the ABT, Stiefel makes the most impressive dance bow in film since Misha‘s own The Turning Point in 1977. He plays a womanizing Young Turk dancer/choreographer, and, with ABT’s Sascha Radetsky, forms a triangle on stage and off over Amanda Schull (from the San Francisco Ballet). Stiefel‘s motorcycle also gets some miles, also on both stage and street. Susan May Pratt, who made her Off-Broadway debut last month in Jewish Rep’s Love in a Thirsty Land, is the only one of the newcomers who “acts” the dancer–relying on the right camera angles and the quick-cuts of a kind film-editor. Ironically, her character is talked up as the most gifted of the young dancers, despite the fact that anorexia takes up most of her screen time. In senior roles in this film are Tony winners Debra Monk, Priscilla Lopez and Donna Murphy. Think of this picture as Fame on pointe.

To date, the New York stage career of Melissa Errico has consisted of reprising the musical roles of Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady), Ava Gardner (One Touch of Venus) and Grace Kelly (High Society). Since these were hardly musical comedy icons, Errico has had to perpetuate her career elsewhere–like in the movies. The result is Frequency, opening April 28, and she’s shockingly underused as Dennis Quaid‘s estranged daughter-in-law

After doing a bang-up job of directing The Drama Dept.’s sold-out revival of The Torch-Bearers, Dylan Baker has reverted to acting and gone to Vancouver for a film, Along Came a Spider: “Morgan Freeman plays this detective who’s after a serial killer, and I’m another cop who’s standing in his way, trying to get the same guy. Finally, he gets him–and I watch.”

Ruth Williamson, who plays the mayor’s wife in The Music Man recently went West for three days to “flirt” with Nicholas Cage. “We shot a couple of exteriors uptown in New York for Family Man, and I had to shoot an interior scene in L.A.,” she explains. “I play a wealthy woman who flirts with him in his apartment building every morning in the elevator.” The pencil-thin comedienne also has a cameo in the new ABC series Wonderland, airing Thursday, April 20, a week before The Music Man opens. The show takes place in a mental hospital, and Williamson is “guest psycho” for an episode called “The Raw and the Cooked.” She is brought into the emergency room because she has poisoned herself eating ficus leaves. “I have all this inappropriate behavior–taking my clothes off, stuff like that–then they find out I have a degenerative brain disease. It’s tragic and funny–and the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

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Closed: June 10, 2000