The NY Post reports that David Huddleston, who stars in the new Joel and Ethan Coen film, The Big Lebowski, will take over for Pat Hingle as Benjamin Franklin in the Roundabout Theatre's hit Broadway revival of 1776. The 67-year-old Huddleston goes in March 4.
Huddleston's, who acted in Westerns opposite Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart, also appeared on Broadway in The First (1981), playing Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Other credits include Simon Gray's Molly at the Long Wharf.
Huddleston told the NY Post, "I love playing Ben Franklin. He was a very lively fellow, and he had a great command of the language."
As for 1776, set designer Tony Walton slightly expanded his set for the Broadway 1776 revival to accommodate its Dec. 3 move from the 499-seat Criterion Stage Right to Broadway's biggest theatre, the 1933-seat Gershwin, with its bigger stage.
The Peter Stone/Sherman Edwards musical moved with its 25-person cast intact. Hallmark Entertainment sponsored the move, for which producers had to raise $3 million. Tickets for the show at the Gershwin are now on sale at Ticketmaster (212) 307-4100. *
For weeks prior to the transfer, the show's producers had been discussing ways to make that huge space financially and aesthetically workable. According to production spokesperson Erin Dunn, set designer Walton had to make a few changes to expand the set for the Gershwin. "There's now a V-shaped platform raising up a portion of the stage that wasn't raised before. Also, on either side of the stage hanging from the walls are the flags of the original 13 colonies. Plus instead of one house front, there are two house fronts on opposite ends of the stage."
Costumes for 1776 are by William Ivey Long (Chicago), lighting by Brian Nason and sound by Brian Ronan. The musical director is Paul Gemignani, with orchestrations by Brian Besterman and choreography by Kathleen Marshall.
Brent Spiner, who plays John Adams, is known to musical theatre fans as Franz, the disgruntled German accented servant in Sondheim's Sunday in the Park, and to TV fans as Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." In 1776, the "obnoxious and disliked" Adams, whose singleminded determination to win independence from Britain for the American colonies nevertheless gradually wears down the resistance of his colleagues in the Continental Congress.
Co-starring Gregg Edelman (Edward Rutledge) and Michael Cumpsty (John Dickinson), Linda Emond as Abigail Adams and Lauren Ward as Martha Jefferson (the role that launched Betty Buckley's career). They are the only two women in the cast.
Paul Michael Valley plays Thomas Jefferson. Valley fans might want to check out his website, http://members.aol.com/wedoplays/pmvalley.html.
The production employed one of the more amusing advertising campaigns of the summer season: Featuring an eagle with sunglasses, the show billed itself as "Independence Day -- The Musical." For the record, the show has neither aliens, nor space ships -- though it does take place in the days leading up to July 4.
In an interview with Associated Press writer Michael Kuchwara, librettist Stone said of his craft, "Musical book writing involves two things: concept and structure. You have to know how to get to a song, specifically what to do in order to get to a song. If you can do that quickly and with some sure footedness, you'll probably come out all right."