The world may know her best as the former wife of Rod Stewart and George Hamilton, but for a couple of weeks in July, Los Angeles will know Alana Stewart as the latest actress to appear in Who Wants Fame?, a comedy by veteran television writer Mark Rothman.
The play opened the weekend of May 27-30, with Barry Gordon in the lead alongside alternating co-stars Dawn Wells ("Gilligan's Island") and Susan Lanier. Previews began May 6, with the run recently extended to July 25.
TV actor Clayton Landey, who also played Luther Adler in Off-Broadway's Names, co-stars opposite Stewart.
Rothman, the author, producer and director of Fame, has a resume that reads like a history of 1970s television comedy. He was a head writer and producer on "The Odd Couple" and "Happy Days," and a co creator of "Laverne and Shirley" -- all keystones of the Garry Marshall era. Head writer on "She's The Sheriff" ("we knew the critics would kill us no matter what, so we tried to have fun with the scripts and -- believe it or not -- go back to the `Sergeant Bilko' format"), Rothman also got satisfaction writing for the later, African-American version, "The New Odd Couple." "The original was a classic," Rothman noted, "but sometimes Tony and Jack [Randall and Klugman] would make changes that I thought weakened the script. When the show was done again, I got to go back to the original scripts and see if they still worked, if the structure was stronger. A lot of times, I was right."
But that was then, and Who Wants Fame? is now. "I'm basically running the show here," Rothman told PBOL in May. "In television, you always have to answer to someone. I wanna be the only one I have to answer to on this. And this is not my first play. Hey, I'm from New York. I'm basically a theatre guy who stumbled into TV. "The Odd Couple" gave me a start; "Laverne & Shirley" made me a fortune, so I can do what I want to do now." What Rothman wants to do is see how audiences receive Fame and then take it to theatres across the country, with New York only as the very last stop. "I think the L.A. audience is the best audience for this show," said Rothman. "My feeling is if we get hurt out here by the critics, we're not as bad as if we get hurt by the critics in New York. There's a lot of the money to be made once this show is on the road. You put famous stars in the provinces, people will come to see them."
Reached after the opening, Rothman said, "The critics in L.A. were very kind [to Fame] in general. The worst thing the critics who weren't so kind said was that it was no more than a glorified sitcom. I never thought of sitcom as a dirty word. There was a snobbish tone to those reviews... The audiences have loved this show virtually unanimously, and I think we have a very good chance for a strong after-life on the road."
As for the play itself, Fame is a two-character romantic comedy about show business. "She's an actress; he's a talent coordinator for a Los Angeles TV morning talk show." Rothman said. "It was down to the wire between the actress and Jacquelyn Smith for `Charlie's Angels.' Smith got the part, but this woman was cast in a knock-off called `Girls in the Sky,' about three undercover stewardess cops. Anyway, she falls in love with the talent coordinator, and both their careers take interesting turns..."
Rothman declined to elaborate further, saying, "I defy anybody to predict where I'm going. If they're ahead of me, then I fail. The fun of my plays is that the audiences try to get ahead of me, but they can't."
With another play in the works and "a screenplay in his briefcase, Rothman is definitely trying to make his mark again on the L.A. entertainment scene. "I've been invisible for the last ten years," he told PBOL. "My wife is a financial executive, so I kind of followed her wherever she goes, but I'm in L.A. now and ready to prove myself again."
Who Wants Fame?, which features lighting by Gil Tordjman and sets by Seanne Farmer, plays at the Court Theatre. For tickets and information call (310) 289-2999.
-- By David Lefkowitz