FUNNY MAN: Ernie Sabella got a taste of the power of Pumbaa recently while waiting to audition for a Tums commercial. The room was filled with child actors on hand for a different audition, and one by one, they wandered over to pay court to the voice of Disney's lovable warthog. "They'd seen 'The Making of The Lion King,' " explains Sabella, now on Broadway giving a hilarious performance as Marcus Lycus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. "It was like I was Frank Sinatra they were so excited. But they couldn't understand why Pumbaa would have to audition for a Tums ad."
Though The Lion King featured the voice talents of Matthew Broderick, and Whoopi Goldberg, the movie's true stars were Sabella and his Forum co-star Nathan Lane as the wily meerkat Timon. "Isn't that amazing?" the modest Sabella says. "When we saw [Pumbaa and Timon's big number] 'Hakuna Matata' in the movie, we couldn't believe it." The friends will reteam for the video movie Lion King II.
Reflecting on his current success, the Pleasantville, N.Y., native says, "I've achieved everything I ever wished for, which raises the question, 'Now what?' " Only the breakup of his marriage casts a shadow over Sabella's streak of good fortune. In response, he included a bit of cherished advice from Forum set designer Tony Walton at the end of his bio: "Count your blessings, cut your losses and cheer up!" A HAPPY BALANCE: The Wednesday matinee performance of A Delicate Balance has just ended, and George Grizzard is off to Joe Allen's for an early supper with a single martini. (His dressing room includes a line-up of empty Absolut bottles and a photo taken at the precise moment he was named Best Actor at this year's Tony Awards.) "I loved winning the prize," Grizzard says of the Tony. "I feel like I'm part of a club now because all of my friends have one."
The casting of Grizzard as Edward Albee's suburban patriarch, Rosemary Harris as his strong-willed wife and Elaine Stritch as her alcoholic sister now seems inspired, but Grizzard admits, "I was leery about it. It's astoundingly reminiscent of our own lives. Rosemary and I have known each other for 42 years; this is our eighth play together. Elaine and I have known each other damned near that long. This is a cast of divas," he says with a laugh. "But when we're on the same wavelength, it's amazing how well we work together."
Grizzard takes pride in his long theatrical career, including the role of Nick in the 1962 Broadway debut production of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And yet he calls himself "very lazy" and longs for more time at his Connecticut country home. "I'm not very good at talking about acting," he insists. "I've always said that how you act and who you sleep with and how much money you make is nobody's business. The ladies in our cast have taught me a fourth thing not to talk about: age."
--By Kathie Henderson