NOISES OFF-BROADWAY & BEYOND: Christian Borle Returns to the Pirate Ship and a Lengthy Homecoming at the Public

News   NOISES OFF-BROADWAY & BEYOND: Christian Borle Returns to the Pirate Ship and a Lengthy Homecoming at the Public
 
Playbill.com writer Harry Haun provides the latest insight into the buzz Off-Broadway and beyond.

Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara Photo by Monica Simoes

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Raging Bull and the Invisible Rabbit
The next time that you encounter Elwood P. Dowd, the lanky, loopy eccentric who pals around with a six-foot-tall rabbit that only he can see, he will be Robert De Niro.

A movie remake of Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvey is in the works for producer Don Gregory, who revived The Belle of Amherst at the Westside Theatre. Changes have been made. Instead of an equally addle-brained sister, Veta (Oscar work for that delightfully old biddy, Josephine Hull), Elwood has a similarly disposed daughter, to be played by Jennifer Ashton. The role of Dr. Chumley, head of the mental asylum, will go to Christoph Waltz, who has racked up a helluvah body count in two Oscar-winning roles ( "Inglorious Basterds" and "Django Unchained").

Evidently, they will be going for more than just zany comedy this time out. The screenplay is by Jonathan Tropper. This year he turned his novel into the Jason Bateman-Tina Fey-Rose Byrne-Jane Fonda comedy, "This Is Where I Leave You." Peter Segal, the director of the popular HBO series "Banshee," will helm the piece.

A Darling Addition
Kelli O'Hara duly noted that "all the really good parts were taken" in "The Sound of Music Live!" which Carrie Underwood did last year on NBC, so she was distressed to learn that Craig Zadan and Neil Meron had picked "Peter Pan Live!" to do this year. "I thought, 'Oh, no. There's nothing really in that one that I can do either," she said with a heavy sigh, "and I forgot all about it. Then they called and asked me to do it."

What they asked her to do was Mrs. Darling, mother of the three youngsters Peter Pan takes for a spin through Neverland. The musical (written and rewritten by the likes of Moose Charlap, Jule Styne, Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and currently revised by Green's daughter, Amanda) airs Dec. 4 on NBC, with Allison Williams in the title role and Christopher Walken as the dastardly Captain Hook.

Kelli O'Hara and Christian Borle
Kelli O'Hara and Christian Borle Photo by Patrick Randak/NBC

O'Hara opens the show with an existing song. "I sing a small portion of 'Tender Shepherd,' a lovely little lullaby, to my kids at the beginning," she said, "and then they've really thrown me some bones here. Now, we have Amanda Green taking some of the songs her father wrote with Betty Comden and Jule Styne for Do Re Mi and Say, Darling. She's refocused them and added new lyrics. It's created some very beautiful new things, and a couple of them are things that I get to be involved with."

"Distant Melody," which was Peter's end-of-Act-I number, has been reallocated to Mrs. Darling and her daughter, Wendy. "I get to have a little bit of that when you go back to the nursery room where I'm thinking and waiting and singing a bit of 'Distant Melody.' And there's a new song called 'Only Pretend' I get to do at the end."

Well, it's not literally new, actually. It was "I Know About Love" in Do Re Mi, and "Ambition" from that show is turned into "Vengeance" for Captain Hook to sing.

Christian Borle, who won a Tony for playing Hook's early (two-handed) years in Peter and the Starcatcher, has been demoted to Hook's deputy, Mr. Smee, but he's been assigned the duties of Mr. Darling (a role usually doubled by the Hook actor).

This is his second time at the rodeo. He was Max Detweiler in "The Sound of Music Live!" and he learned a lot: "Last year I was surprised at how nervous I got before my first entrance. My palms got just slick with sweat. What I'm hoping to do this year is just shut all that excitement out and focus on the people that you're working with." Making a Big Splash
First to emerge from The Writers' Room, a new partnership formed by Manhattan Theatre Club and Ars Nova, is Sharyn Rothstein, with the first play about the tragic domestic fallout that followed Hurricane Sandy, By the Water. She even custom-fitted the piece for MTC's City Center Stage II, where it's now holding forth till Dec. 7.

Cassie Beck
Cassie Beck

"The commission itself was kinda open-ended," said Rothstein. "They said you could write anything you want. It just has to be for this space. I didn't know what I was going to write, but when I walked into this space — it was pretty soon after the hurricane — and the first thing I saw was a destroyed house. I thought it would be an effective setting because you're so close and you feel like you're in that family."

The crisis at hand here she found in the papers: the buyouts that followed the devastation for families who opt to move on rather than to rebuild. "I followed that news as it percolated through the press and thought it rich, dramatic material for people who had lost everything and then had to make that harrowing decision."

Despite the somberness of the situation, Rothstein has served up some pungent, funny dialogue for the cast to blithely bat around. Excellent work abounds from Cassie Beck, Charlotta Maier, Tom Pephrey, Ethan Phillips, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Vyto Ruginis and the incomparable Deirdre O'Connell. Swim over and have a look-see.

Three Down, Six To Go

The trilogy beginning Suzan-Lori Parks' nine-part saga runs till Dec. 7 at The Public. Father Comes Home From the War started small — as a title that was part of the 365 Days/365 Plays series she took all over the world for a whole year [2003]. "Because my dad was an Army officer, that title resonated with me, so I said, 'Let's see what else is there.' I started writing the play in '08 and workshopped it in '09. I knew then it was a nine-part play. We'll get to know the families involved. I did drafts of everything. I know where the stories are going. I even know the last speech of the last play, but it's going to take a while to get there because I'm meticulous."

Like the last nine-part cavalcade to play New York — Horton Foote's The Orphans' Home Cycle in 2009-10 — Ms. Parks' setting is Texas. "My mother was born in Greenville," the Topdog/Underdog Pulitzer Prize winner said, "but she grew up in far West Texas in a town called Odessa, which the residents often called Slow-death-a."

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