CHRISTMAS TREATS: It is not often that a debut producer lines up two such major stars as Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, gets them into the West End in a play by an unknown French writer and still keeps all B'way and Hollywood rights. Yet that is what has just happened to Mrs. Sean Connery who saw Art in Paris, decided it might do for her husband as a movie and that in the meantime she might as well see how it worked onstage. In a Christopher Hampton translation, Yasmina Reza's play is the first Paris hit to have triumphed in London in more than 20 years: Broadway should be getting it with or without Connery late next year.
Meanwhile, London is looking good for mainstream musicals this Christmas: Tony Newley in Scrooge (a staging of the old Leslie Bricusse movie score); Vivian Ellis's last show, Listen to the Wind, at the King's Head; the return to the National of the Guys and Dolls that was Richard Eyre's calling card there almost a decade ago; Smokey Joe's Cafe rocking at the Prince of Wales; and Nine in its London premiere at the Warehouse.
And if, to misquote Barbara Cook, you like it better without a band, then how about this December line-up: Diana Rigg and David Suchet in a stunning Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Jessica Lange in Peter Hall's production of A Streetcar Named Desire; Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in the Alan Bennett monologues of loneliness and disorientation, Talking Heads; Michael Pennington in John Osborne's The Entertainer; Alan Armstrong in a new National Death of A Salesman; Bob Hoskins in Jon Marans's Old Wicked Songs (for my money the best new American play in at least half a decade); Alec McCowen in a ravishing Cherry Orchard from Stratford; a new Jonathan Miller Midsummer Night's Dream at the Almeida; Robert Lepage's controversial Hamlet rewrite, Elsinore; and Richard Briers at the Lyric Hammersmith in a non-musical A Christmas Carol.
CABARET WORLDWIDE: The opening up of the 88-seat Jermyn Street Theatre as a cabaret space has led to some triumphant seasons this fall, not least by Donna McKechnie and Liliane Montevecchi. But the great news from this year's Manhattan Cabaret Convention is that both San Francisco and London will soon have Conventions of their own, run by the dedicated Don Smith. These last seven years, Smith has regularly staged week-long celebrations of the art of cabaret singing at Town Hall, involving stars and newcomers from all over the globe in what amounts to a combined festival, open autition and trade fair for upwards of 200 singers of all ages from veterans to the very hopefuls.
LLOYD WEBBER WISDOM: Sir Andrew, talking to me over lunch in London last month as Whistle Down the Wind was going into Broadway rehearsals for Hal Prince, By Jeeves was opening at Goodspeed en route to N.Y., Superstar was returning to London and Elaine Paige was taking Broadway by storm as the latest Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard:
"I think it may now be five to midnight for the lavish spectaculars. Now may well be the time when we all have to go back to smaller shows and rein in our costs before the technology gets totally out of control along with the backstage budgets."