Louis Botto's PASSING STAGES -- June 1998

Louis Botto's PASSING STAGES -- June 1998 HIGH SOCIETY REVISITED
The arrival of Cole Porter's musical High Society at the St. James Theatre, brings back memories of the 1939 Philip Barry triumph, The Philadelphia Story, on which the musical is based.

The play proved to be a lifesaver for its star, Katharine Hepburn; its author, Mr. Barry; and its producer, The Theatre Guild. The Guild was on the verge of bankrupcy after having had a string of flops. Barry hadn't had a hit on Broadway since The Animal Kingdom in 1932. And, after a string of less-than-successful movies at RKO, Hepburn had been branded "Box-Office Poison" in Hollywood. She bought up her contract, returned to Broadway and had Philip Barry write The Philadelphia Story for her.

Hepburn once told me that she had been terrified of returning to face the N.Y. critics. Her last Broadway appearance in 1933's The Lake had inspired Dorothy Parker's famous critique: "She runs the gamut of emotions‹from 'A' to 'B'."

"I was so frightened of the opening night in New York," Hepburn said, "that I moved into the River Club and pretended I was in Philadelphia. I ordered that no New York papers be brought to my room."

The ruse worked. Not only did she dazzle the critics and first night audience on March 28, 1939, at the Shubert Theatre, but she helped save The Theatre Guild, Barry's reputation and her screen career when she made a triumphant return to Hollywood as star of the film version.

HIGH SOCIETY REVISITED
The arrival of Cole Porter's musical High Society at the St. James Theatre, brings back memories of the 1939 Philip Barry triumph, The Philadelphia Story, on which the musical is based.

The play proved to be a lifesaver for its star, Katharine Hepburn; its author, Mr. Barry; and its producer, The Theatre Guild. The Guild was on the verge of bankrupcy after having had a string of flops. Barry hadn't had a hit on Broadway since The Animal Kingdom in 1932. And, after a string of less-than-successful movies at RKO, Hepburn had been branded "Box-Office Poison" in Hollywood. She bought up her contract, returned to Broadway and had Philip Barry write The Philadelphia Story for her.

Hepburn once told me that she had been terrified of returning to face the N.Y. critics. Her last Broadway appearance in 1933's The Lake had inspired Dorothy Parker's famous critique: "She runs the gamut of emotions‹from 'A' to 'B'."

"I was so frightened of the opening night in New York," Hepburn said, "that I moved into the River Club and pretended I was in Philadelphia. I ordered that no New York papers be brought to my room."

The ruse worked. Not only did she dazzle the critics and first night audience on March 28, 1939, at the Shubert Theatre, but she helped save The Theatre Guild, Barry's reputation and her screen career when she made a triumphant return to Hollywood as star of the film version.


LISTEN TO HIS SONG
Andrew Gans, associate editor of Playbill, doesn't have to sing for his supper, but sings for the love of it. The talented baritone has been making impressive appearances at such Manhattan nightspots as Don't Tell Mama and Judy's, excelling with a repertoire of classy show tunes deftly mixed with amusing patter. He is accompanied on piano by Laurence Sobel.

On June 8 at 6 p.m. Andrew will perform at Town Hall (123 W. 43rd St.) as part of "A Swell Party," The Mabel Mercer Foundation's three-day bash of cabaret performances. Andrew will be showcased in "Newcomers Night," featuring more than a dozen talents new to the Annual Cabaret Conventions produced by Donald F. Smith. Tickets are $10. A limited number of $35 "Star Seats" are also available. Call (212) 980-3026.


DESIGNING WOMAN
The 1998 TDF Irene Sharaff Awards were recently conferred by the Theatre Development Fund, through the TDF Costume Collection. Awarded for excellence in design, the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to costume designer Jane Greenwood, a 12-time Tony Award nominee. She is currently represented on Broadway by five shows: High Society, Honour, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and The Deep Blue Sea.

In addition, TDF's Irene Sharaff Young Master Award, presented to a designer whose work, beyond being promising, has come to fruition, was conferred on Martin Pakledinaz, currently represented by Golden Child and The Life.
-- By Louis Botto