Barbara Zitwer and Mark Hampton's outrageous, crowd-pleasing play, Paper Doll, charting the lives, losses and lavishness of novelist Jacqueline Susann and husband Irving Mansfield — as played by Marlo Thomas and F. Murray Abraham — is aiming for New York City following its second tryout production in North Carolina in February.
But where and when in New York?
"Yes, we have New York in our sights," producer Randall Wreghitt told Playbill On-Line Jan. 31, saying the money is not an issue, but the real estate is. Depending on theatre availability, Wreghitt and his producing partners are looking for Broadway or Off-Broadway and "sooner rather than later."
He's currently exploring numbers and budgets for "all sorts of options" in New York, he said.
The obvious thought in the community is that the marquee power of Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham and TV star and humanitarian Marlo Thomas would make Paper Doll are sure-thing for a Broadway stand. Thomas and Abraham were audience and critical hits in the Paper Doll world premiere at Pittsburgh Public Theater Nov. 8-Dec. 9, 2001, under the direction of Leonard Foglia. All three — and Joanne Genelle in multiple roles, Armando Rodriguez as Susann protege Jésus and a black poodle named Barney as Susann's beloved dog, Josie — will continue with the production Feb. 28-March 10, for a next-step staging at Duke University in Raleigh Durham, NC.
Wreghitt is partnering with MARS Theatricals (Amy Danis and Mark Johannes), in association with Montauk Highway and others on the commercial run. A clutch of New York producers made the trip to Pittsburgh to see the production, and more are expected to go south to North Carolina.
"I thought it was a damn funny script, and who doesn't wanna read about Jacqueline Susann?" Wreghitt previously told Playbill On-Line. "It's about fame and the cost of fame and it's very entertaining and smart and funny."
Rehearsals begin at Duke Feb. 19. In Pittsburgh, wildly divided reviews met the punchy play by Zitwer and Hampton, with Variety predicting a boffo commercial future and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette grumbling that the material was "flimsy" and "meanders" through monologues and flashbacks. Audiences reportedly ate up the naughty jokes and references made by Susann and Mansfield, who both promoted Susann's trashy fiction ("Valley of the Dolls") to the best seller lists.
"I think part of why people love the play and are responding to it, is that Mark and I and Leonard Foglia and the cast have been able to bring Jackie and Irving to life...we created a Golem and brought Jackie and Irving back to life." She said Thomas and Abraham were "overtaken by the spirit" of Susann and Mansfield, partners in business and life.
Zitwer has long been fascinated by the late Susann, and commissioned Hampton (Full Gallop) to write a play. Zitwer and Hampton got along so well and were on the same page so much that they decided to collaborate.
"We were instantly attracted to writing together," Zitwer said.
What interests her about Susann?
"There are themes about her life that are universal," Zitwer said. "Themes about being an outsider, mortality, love, marriage, fame, ambition, and the craving for fame and what drives famous people. These were interesting ideas about life that Mark and I felt we could explore through the character of Jackie and Irving."
The play includes direct-address and monologues, as well as more conventional narrative scenes; the work has been described as somewhat nonlinear.
"We were interested in breaking a lot of conventions..." Zitwer said. She added that two new characters were developed in rehearsals.
Paper Doll opened Nov. 16, 2001, at Pittsburgh Public Theater's O'Reilly Theatre after previews that began Nov. 8.
The starry leading players help make Paper Doll the third high profile production in three seasons at the resident Pennsylvania company. August Wilson's King Hedley II had its world premiere at PPT and the Broadway musical, By Jeeves, had its resident tryout there in early 2001 .
Emmy Award-winner Thomas ("That Girl," Broadway's Social Security) plays the flamboyant, troubled Susann, who died of cancer in 1974. Susann prefigured the celebrity trash lit authors of today. The recent film, "Isn't She Great" also focused on Susann, with Bette Midler as the sassy, outlandish, rags-to-riches author. Part of the new play is set in Pittsburgh in 1971. F. Murray Abraham won the Academy Award for "Amadeus."
Co-author Hampton memorably co-wrote Full Gallop, the Diana Vreeland solo play, with actress-writer Mary Louise Wilson. With longtime friend Stuart Ross, creator of Forever Plaid, he recently co-authored a musical based on the life of the '30s singing trio, the Boswell Sisters, which recently had its world premiere at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. Co-author Zitwer is the founder and owner of an international literary agency based in New York City, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. She is also a film and television producer and her feature films include the cult classic, "Vampire's Kiss," starring Nicholas Cage. Zitwer is the author of the "Magic of the Ocean" series published by Warner Books. Paper Doll is her first play.
"The world-premiere of Paper Doll continues our goal of producing an exciting mix of classics, great musicals and new plays," said artistic director Ted Pappas, in a statement.
Designers are Michael McGarty (set), Martin Pakledinaz (costume), Brian Nason (lighting) and Zach Moore (sound).
— By Kenneth Jones