STARS OVER NEW JERSEY: "I didn't know quite how large the show was or quite how big this role was until about three days ago," said statuesque Dee Hoty about inheriting Alexis Smith's star spot in Stephen Sondheim's great Follies, now enjoying its first area revival since its original Broadway gig 27 years ago. "I didn't hit the panic button -- the panic button hit me; then, Miss Miller and Mr. Bracken and Miss Ballard showed up, and I thought, 'Oh, we're really going to do this show.'" In addition to Ann and Eddie and Kaye, other luminaries showed up, bathing the Paper Mill Playhouse in such starlight that planes could land on it. Laurence Guittard, playing Hoty's beau Ben, admitted fear and trembling at having to follow John McMartin's famous onstage breakdown scene but promised to do his best. The second-tier couple originated by Gene Nelson and Dorothy Collins are now played by Tony Roberts ("my first Sondheim show!") and Donna McKechnie ("I saw it on opening night, and it was one of the most thrilling openings I ever attended.").
Liliane Montevecchi (in the Fifi D'Orsay slot, but of course) impressed the press at rehearsal with her high kick: "It's the only thing I have left of my ballet career." Robert Johanson, who's directing this production for the Paper Mill's 60th anniversary, said that only one of the changes that James Goldman and Sondheim made for London -- the substitution of "Ah, But Underneath" for "The Saga of Lucy and Jessie" -- will be used. "They were not happy with what they did in London," Johanson added, "but the book has been slightly rearranged, restructured, rethought in terms of bringing out the supporting characters -- just a lot of interior work that makes it tighter and more understandable." . . . For the first time in the 12 years that the prizes have been passed out, the 1997-1998 Lucille Lortel Awards for Off-Broadway Achievement are going to works that did not appear at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Moisés Kaufman's Gross Indecency and Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane tied for Best Play; Arthur Miller's All My Sons was cited for Best Revival, and the Best Actor and Best Actress were Brian Cox in St. Nicholas and Cherry Jones in Pride's Crossing.
UPWARD AND ONWARD: Mr. Rohn's Wild Ride, a one-man Off-Broadway show starring Rohn (pronounced: Ron) Seykell, will be pitched this month to interested investors -- and, after the raves he won with his recent Eighty Eights sellout, brace yourself for quick takers. A fugitive Marius from Les Miz, Seykell conceived the show with Arabella Hong Young (from the original cast of Flower Drum Song). Kenneth Elliott, who usually helms the Charles Busch antics, will direct the piece, which will feature original songs from Kander & Ebb, Ann Hampton Callaway, musical director Lenny Babbish, Rick Crom, Dick (When Pigs Fly) Gallagher, Scott Warrender and David Friedman.