It seems New York audiences can't get enough of Topsy and the little house of her Uncle Thomas. On Broadway, The King & I readies for its latest cast change -- Marie Osmond replacing Faith Prince, Dec. 19 -- while Off-Broadway's Drama Dept. has announced an extra week of performances of Uncle Tom's Cabin at the Greenwich House Theatre.
This revisionist take on Harriet Beecher Stowe's controversial novel opened to mixed reviews Dec. 11 and will end the first part of its run, as scheduled, Dec. 21. After a holiday break, Uncle Tom's Cabin will play one more week, Jan. 6-11.
As for Drama Dept., they're the little company that could. First they came to immediate critical attention with Kingdom Of Earth (a reworking of a failed Tennessee Williams drama), then their revival of June Moon won a Lucille Lortel Award, ended up playing at NJ's McCarter Theatre, and comes back to Off-Broadway Dec. 18. Also, As Bees In Honey Drown is one of Off-Broadway's most popular plays.
Uncle Tom's Cabin (or, Life Among The Lowly) is a new adaptation by Randolph Curtis Rand and Floraine Kay, with Rand directing. Stowe's novel about the antebellum South was staged earlier this season by Off Broadway's Mint Theatre Company, using the 1852 George Aiken adaptation. Director Rand, a member of Arden Party, uses excerpts from several versions of Cabin, alongside testimony from freed slaves and other historical figures.
The show's cast of five -- K. Todd Freeman, Stacy Highsmith, Gretchen Krich, Noel Robichaux and David Wheir -- perform the play's 35+ roles. Freeman is best known in NY as the star of The Song Of Jacob Zulu; he also appeared in A Clockwork Orange in Chicago. Designing the show are Rodney Cueller (sets), Jonathan C. Bixby & Gregory Gale (costumes) and James Vermeulen (lighting). Floraine Kay is the dramaturg, with Sue Clark serving as historical consultant.
Also on tap for the Drama Dept. season:
As Thousands Cheer (prev. Feb. 11, 1998)
This 1933 musical by Moss Hart and Irving Berlin features such tunes as "Heatwave," "Easter Parade" and "Supper Time." Judy Kuhn (Les Miz, Chess) and Mary Beth Peil (1993's Spain at Theatre For The New City) will star in this revival, to be produced by Ira Weitzman and directed by Christopher Ashley (Jeffrey).
Hope Is The Thing With Feathers (prev. June 10, 1998)
A new play by Frank Pugliese (Aven 'U Boys), about three couples from three generations whose lives intertwine. The play is the first fruit of Drama Dept.'s collaboration with Fine Line/New Line Cinema, "Plays Into-Movies."
In other Drama Dept. news, the company's third annual Reading Series of new or neglected plays will take place May 1998. Plans are also still being discussed to bring June Moon back to Off Broadway.
As for further company plans, the distant future involves a permanent space for the company: "I've heard whispers about looking for a home," actor/director Nelson told Playbill On-Line. (The company continues to use the Greenwich House theatre downtown.)
Drama Dept. was formed in 1994 to "create, develop and produce new and neglected plays, as well as to work with educational institutions to help foster new artists and audiences." Company members include Sarah Jessica Parker, Peter Gallagher, Nicky Silver and John Cameron Mitchell.
What's next for this fledgling company with some big-time names -- Cynthia Nixon, Peter Frechette, Mark Nelson -- on its roster? Here's the 1998 season schedule:
For tickets ($12) and information on Drama Dept. Shows call (212) 541 8441 or check out their website at www.dramadept.com.
-- By David Lefkowitz