What is it about pin-ups who want to dress down? Mel Gibson once played "The Man Without a Face," Gwyneth Paltrow tubbed up for the recent "Shallow Hal," Tom Cruise turned his face to pudding for "Vanilla Sky," and now leading man-type Billy Crudup is getting set to hit himself with the ugly stick to play John Merrick, The Elephant Man, in a Broadway-bound revival of Bernard Pomerance's play of the same title.
Producer David Aukin (Noises Off) had planned to do the show in London's West End but then changed his plans when Crudup expressed interest. Now the show has officially been announced for Broadway's Royale Theatre, with previews to start March 26 and an opening set for April 14, 2002. Sexaholix...a love story, the current Royale tenant, ends its extended run Feb. 10.
Previously, William Morris agency spokesperson George Lane confirmed that Sean Mathias, director of Broadway's starry current revival of Dance of Death, would direct The Elephant Man. The play, set in 1880s London, tells of a hideously-deformed circus freak abused by his keepers and rescued by a scientist, who treats him civilly but makes him something of a faddish curiosity among the intelligentsia.
Variety has reported that Crudup's steady real-life girlfriend and co-star in a Broadway Bus Stop revival, Tony-winner Mary-Louise Parker (Proof), has been rumored for the show as well, but there's no confirmation of other casting.
After a successful Off-Broadway run, The Elephant Man transferred to Broadway April 19, 1979 at the Booth Theatre. Jack Hofsiss directed the drama, which starred Kevin Conway as Dr. Treves, Philip Anglim as John Merrick, and Carole Shelley as Mrs. Kendal. The play, Hofsiss and Shelley all won Tony Award, with the drama also picking up a New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Among actors who took over the lead were pop star David Bowie and "Star Wars" star Mark Hamill. David Lynch, post-"Eraserhead" but pre-"Twin Peaks," directed the 1980 movie version of "The Elephant Man," with Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and John Hurt starring. Since then, the show has been subject to parody, including The Elephant Man: The Musical, which has made numerous Off-Off-Broadway appearances; and a segment in the Mel Smith movie comedy "The Tall Guy," in which Jeff Goldblum plays an actor who appears in a musical based on "The Elephant Man," complete with a row of tap dancers wearing elephant heads. Beyond that, the dialogue line, "I am not an animal, I am a human being" has become something of an oft paraphrased comic punchline, though the line, "Sometimes I think my head is so big because it is full of dreams" is also well remembered.
Actor Crudup came to the fore in the aforementioned Broadway revival of Bus Stop and has since done well in movies, including a featured role in "Almost Famous." He also appeared this past summer in a Shakespeare-in-the-Park staging of Measure for Measure.
The Elephant Man is further testimony to Broadway's current obsession with stage hits from the Carter and Reagan years. The past two seasons have seen major revivals of Amadeus, 42nd Street and Noises Off, with Into the Woods on its way.