Tony Award-winning actress Swoosie Kurtz, no stranger to juicy characters from such New York productions as Fifth of July, Imaginary Friends and The House of Blue Leaves, will star in the Broadway bow as Susann, the pop-culture figure best known for her novel, "Valley of the Dolls" — and for her penchant for self promotion.
Tony Award-winner Judd Hirsch (I'm Not Rappaport, Conversations With My Father) plays Susann's manager-husband, Irving Mansfield, in the play by Mark Hampton and Barbara J. Zitwer, directed by Leonard Foglia (Master Class).
Opening at Circle in the Square is set for Dec. 8, Playbill On-Line has learned. The comedy played previously at Pittsburgh Public Theater (2001) and in the Previews at Duke series at Duke University in North Carolina (2002). Both engagements starred Marlo Thomas and F. Murray Abraham. It played regionally at Long Wharf Theatre earlier this year, starring Dixie Carter as Susann.
Broadway's Circle in the Square (home to Metamorphoses, Life x 3 and Not About Nightingales) is famously configured in a deep three-quarter thrust setting. The play is set in the couple's living room, but also in dreamy flashbacks.
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 in a previous interview with Playbill On Line.
Randall Wreghitt continues to be lead producer, with partners Bobbie Horowitz and Jana Robbins.
Since its Pittsburgh bow, Hampton and Zitwer have revisited their script and refined, tweaked and strengthened it, according to sources.
Director Foglia has been with the play since its first staging. The Broadway cast will also include Joanne Genelle (who appeared in the show's three regional runs, in multiple roles) and Adrian Rieder (who appeared as protégé Jesus in the February 2002 Duke run and the March 2003 Long Wharf run). A poodle named Barney plays Susann's canine, Josephine.
Designers are Mike McGarty (set), Marty Pakledinaz (costumes), Brian Nason (lighting) and Zack Moore (sound).
At Connecticut's Long Wharf, Jerry Grayson played Mansfield. As the production plan continued to develop over the past two years, Andrea Martin and Fran Drescher were mentioned for the role of the 1960s novelist and celebrity. Robert Wuhl was announced to play Irving for Long Wharf, but dropped out.
Susann, who died of cancer, is also the subject of the Bette Midler-Nathan Lane movie, "Isn't She Great."
Abraham starred opposite Thomas in the play's world premiere at Pittsburgh Public Theater in late 2001. In February-March 2002, the slightly revised play had a run in North Carolina at Duke. The play was to be fast-tracked to Broadway's Cort Theatre for spring 2002, but producer Wreghitt and his partners decided to bide their time.
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.
Zitwer has long been fascinated by the late Susann, and commissioned Hampton (playwright of 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."
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.