Nora Ephron's playwriting debut, Imaginary Friends, opens on Broadway Dec. 12 at the Barrymore Theatre. The production began previews Nov. 25 following its world premiere engagement at San Diego's The Globe Theatre in September.
The play with music — by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia — stars Cherry Jones and Swoosie Kurtz, respectively, as personal and literary rivals Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. The play's focal point is the libel suit Hellman brought against McCarthy after the latter called the former "a bad writer" and "dishonest" on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1980. McCarthy also said "everything she writes is a lie, including `and' and `the.'"
Harry Groener (Crazy For You) and Anne Pitoniak (Dance of Death) also star in the play, with Anne Allgood (The Sound of Music), Constance Barron, Bernard Dotson (Sweet Smell of Success), Rosena M. Hill (Ragtime), Gina Lamparella (Jane Eyre), Dirk Lumbard (On Your Toes), Peter Marx (Annie Get Your Gun), Jim Osorno (The Rocky Horror Show), Perry Ojeda (On the Town), Karyn Quackenbush (Annie Get Your Gun) and Melanie Vaughan (Parade).
Four-time Tony Award nominee Jack O'Brien (The Full Monty, The Invention of Love) directs the production with Hairspray cohort Jerry Mitchell choreographing. The creative team features Michael Levine (sets), Robert Morgan (costumes), Kenneth Posner (lights), Jon Weston (sound) and Jan Hartley (video projection). Ron Melrose handles musical direction, supervision and dance arrangements. Orchestrations are by Torrie Zito.
The battle between McCarthy and Hellman ended with the death of Hellman in 1984. Groener, listed in the Playbill simply as "The Man," plays a number of their male contemporaries including literary critic Edmund Wilson, Partisan Review co-founder Philip Rahv, novelist Dashiell Hammett, poet and essayist Stephen Spender, novelist James T. Farrell and, briefly, Norman Mailer. The witty promotional art for the production features photos of two jovial young girls with the indicating words "Liar" and "Bitch" drawn in, as if with Magic Marker.
Imaginary Friends marks the first stage work, and thus the Broadway debut, of screenwriter and film director Ephron. Ephron takes chronological and historical liberties, much in the style of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen. The scribe has also gone on the record as deciding to add music to the play after seeing Dirty Blonde, the Claudia Shear play about Mae West which mixes song and drama.
Songs featured in the play are penned by the composer-lyricist team of Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia (Sweet Smell of Success). The songwriting team employs the ensemble as a Greek chorus to musically elaborate on the plot. Among the numbers are a Ragtime-flavored number about Dixie, a song-and-dance duel between "Fact" and "Fiction," a song about the Red Scare of the '50s and the title tune, sung by Jones and Kurtz.
Ephron — or, rather, her life — is no stranger to the stage; her early childhood was the focus of her stage and screenwriting parents' Three's a Family. Take Her, She's Mine was based on her correspondence with Henry and Phoebe Ephron during her college years. The writer is best known for her screenplays for "When Harry Met Sally...," "You've Got Mail" and "Sleepless in Seattle." She directed the latter two.
USA Ostar Theatricals produces the Broadway production. USA Ostar were also the producers of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, Proof, the Broadway revivals of Hedda Gabler and Dance of Death as well as Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things.
For tickets ($55-$90) to Imaginary Friends, at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, call Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or visit them online at www.telecharge.com. Also visit the show's website at www.imaginaryfriendsonbroadway.com.