Murray Burns has his own, personal declaration of independence. He won't work a 9-5 job or keep any kind of regular schedule. Why should he be like a thousand other clowns with suits and briefcases when there's so much life out there going by?
The battle of autonomy versus conformity has proved an enduring theme, especially via Herb Gardner's comedy, A Thousand Clowns, which begins a new Broadway revival July 4 at the Longacre Theatre. Most Broadway shows would kill for an extra week of previews to hone the production before critics get a look at it, but this show, which has been on the road since mid-May, is confident enough in its readiness for Broadway that the opening date has been pushed ahead: from a previously announced July 17 to July 11. The limited run ends Oct. 14.
Perhaps it's an actors' truism, but every nerd wants to play Cary Grant, every salt-of-the-earth wants to play Hitler, and every pin-up wants to play a rocket scientist. No surprise then, that rugged Marlboro man Tom Selleck has always wanted to play the iconoclastic, slovenly and free spirited Murray Burns.
Co-starring with Selleck's Burns in Clowns are Barbara Garrick, as social-worker-turned-love-interest Sandra Markowitz and Nicolas King as young Nick Burns, the nephew Murray tries to raise in decidedly unfatherly way. Also in the cast are Mark Blum as Leo, Bradford Cover as Albert, and Robert LuPone (A Chorus Line, True West) as Arnold Burns. Designing the production are Allen Moyer (sets), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes), Brian MacDevitt (lighting) and Peter Fitzgerald (sound).
A Thousand Clowns started rehearsals April 10 and premiered at Duke University in Durham, NC, May 15 for a run there that ended June 3. The next stop was Chicago's Shubert Theatre, June 5-17, followed by Boston's Shubert Theatre, June 19-July 1. John Rando, acclaimed for his work on the Broadway-bound Urinetown, directs. The good news is that producers Jeffrey Richards, Raymond J. Greenwald, Norma Langworthy, James Fuld, Jr., Irving Welzer and Theatre Previews at Duke received what Richards termed an "encouraging" review in Variety May 24, which singled out Selleck for acclaim and, apart from minor technical glitches, praised the show as a whole.
The bad news is that author Herb Gardner, 66, wasn't at Duke to share the optimism. A former smoker, he's been recuperating from a respiratory ailment that recently landed him in the hospital and then in a rehabilitation center. No further word on his present condition was available at press time, though he is expected to attend the July 11 Broadway opening.
Clowns was supposed to come to Broadway this past season, but the timeframe was scotched owing to a lack of available Broadway houses. The 1,079-seat Longacre is a mid-sized house, comparable to the Music Box, Plymouth, Cort and Barrymore.
Actor Selleck has made his fame and fortune as TV's "Magnum P.I.," as well as a movie career that's included "Three Men and a Baby" and "Her Alibi" along with a high-profile, guest-starring TV gig on “Friends.”
In a story about plans for Clowns, the New York Times noted (Feb. 25, 2000) that Selleck had talked to Gardner about doing the show back in 1996, but that was just when the Roundabout Theatre Company had put their Broadway production together, one that starred Judd Hirsch and Marin Hinkle.
Asked why he'd be interested in the role of a man who shirks work in favor of an easy, careless lifestyle, Selleck, 55, told the Times, "I'm 6'4". I was always being asked to do the other guy, the guy who always gets the girl."
Zannie Voss, managing director of Theater Previews at Duke, told Variety (July 31, 2000) that she'd been approached by several producers with commercial projects, but Clowns was "really the standout." Duke mounted the Broadway-eyed Birdy and Eleanor: An American Love Story last season.
A Thousand Clowns has an especially nostalgic tinge these days, since Murray Burns was originally played by the late Jason Robards, who repeated the role in the 1965 film.