The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, starring Lily Tomlin, was supposed to be a 10 week Broadway revival run, but surprises happened along the way: Enthusiastic audiences kept the show running six months and May 7 brought a Best Revival Tony Award nomination.
A spokesman for the show said the staging, directed by Jane Wagner — who also penned the cultural fantasia of a script — remains in "last weeks," and that the producers (in effect, Tomlin and Wagner) have not decided when the run will end at the Booth Theatre.
Popular with fans and critics, the revival of Wagner's seriocomic traipse through modern life is a hit in the literal showbiz sense: It recouped its $1 million investment 10 weeks into the run at the intimate Booth Theatre. The Broadway revival run, which opened Nov. 16, 2000, was expected to be limited to Jan. 21, but business merited several extensions to its "indefinite" run status ("last weeks" were advertised beginning April 20). Tomlin won a 1985-86 Tony Award for The Search, but Wagner was notably snubbed and not nominated as writer of the hit, which later toured and became a best-seller in script form.
Tomlin won a Tony Award for creating a world of characters in Jane Wagner's The Search... in 1986. The doors to the Booth Theatre, the intimate house that proved pure gold for Dame Edna last season, opened for previews Nov. 11, 2000. The play, in which Tomlin essays a collection of offbeat, heartbreaking, hopeful and humorous characters, is directed by Wagner, Tomlin's longtime personal and creative partner. Designers on board to help create the skewed worlds of the seriocomic monologue-playlets are Klara Zieglerova (scenic), Ken Billington (lighting), Tom Clark and Mark Bennett (sound). Tomlin had something of a tryout for the returning Broadway run: She toured a trim concert version of the play to 30 cities between September and December 1999. Fall 2000 dates at Seattle Repertory Theatre (Sept. 6-Oct. 7) and McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ (Oct. 17-Nov. 5) played before Broadway.
The Search for Signs is produced by Tomlin and Wagner Theatricalz. Tickets range $50-$65. The Booth is at 222 W. 45th St. between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. Call (212) 239-6200 for information.
Tomlin, known for her quirky characters on TV's "Laugh-In" and "Murphy Brown," and in films such as "Nashville" and "9 to 5," won a Best Actress Tony Award in 1985-86 for playing Wagner's varied series of scenes and characters. The script is loaded with incisive seriocomic observations about post 1960s cultural attitudes, expectations and consequences. Wagner, her longtime collaborator, failed to get a nomination. The script of the play, however, became a best-seller and has been re-released by Harper Collins to coincide with the Broadway run.
The show set out on a successful national tour in 1990-91. In the original, Tomlin played a punker teen, a wise bag lady, hookers, a fitness freak, a husband, a lesbian editor and more.
One of the more celebrated lines of the play had a character named Lynn, struggling to be a superwoman, observing, "If I had known what it would be like to have it all, I might have settled for less."
The 1999 tour was considered an exploratory reapproach to see how the material played more than a decade after it premiered. The tour was a Delsener Slater production, produced by Tomlin.
Tomlin is a Detroit native who rose to fame on late 1960s TV and graduated to films such as "All of Me," "Incredible Shrinking Woman," "Moment by Moment" (directed by Wagner), "Nashville" and, recently, "Tea With Mussolini."
Her previous Broadway show, Appearing Nitely, written and directed by Wagner in 1977, earned her a Special Tony Award.
Wagner won the Drama Desk Award for "Unique Theatrical Experience" for The Search and a rare Special Award by the New York Drama Critics Circle. The hardcover edition of the play was a New York Times best seller, and is now in paperback. He teleplay for the TV film, "J.T.," brought her to the attention of Tomlin. Wagner co-wrote and co-produced three comedy albums with Tomlin.
She is now developing a TV pilot for Tomlin.