Paper Doll Not Cut Out for the Cort, But Spring on Bway Still Possible

News   Paper Doll Not Cut Out for the Cort, But Spring on Bway Still Possible Paper Doll will not open at the Cort Theatre this season, as announced, but producer Randall Wreghitt is exploring options for a spring opening at an unnamed Broadway theatre, a spokesman for the new play told Playbill On-Line.
Marlo Thomas in Paper Doll.
Marlo Thomas in Paper Doll. (Photo by Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons)

Paper Doll will not open at the Cort Theatre this season, as announced, but producer Randall Wreghitt is exploring options for a spring opening at an unnamed Broadway theatre, a spokesman for the new play told Playbill On-Line.

The Mark Hampton-Barbara J. Zitwer comedy about the life and career of trash novelist Jacqueline Susann stars Marlo Thomas and F. Murray Abraham in its North Carolina tryout Feb. 28 March 10 and had its world premiere with the pair at Pittsburgh Public Theater in late 2001. Another option would be to open on Broadway in the fall, though the timing for a spring launch would seem to be right following the Feb. 28-March 10 remount that plays Duke University in Raleigh Durham, NC.

The original Cort target date for opening was April 30 (per Wreghitt), but that was never officially announced. No reason was given for the producers pulling away from the intimate Cort, which Wreghitt previously said was a good fit for his four-actor (and one-dog) play.

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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 — had planned a late April opening at Broadway's Cort Theatre. Wreghitt previously said he was reviewing all kinds of producing scenarios for the play, including Off-Broadway. It seemed obvious 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. Joanne Genelle played multiple roles, Armando Rodriguez played Susann protege Jésus and a black poodle named Barney was Susann's beloved dog, Josie. Genelle continues in the role, and Adrian Rieder takes over the role of Jésus.

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."

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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.

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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.

Designers are Michael McGarty (set), Martin Pakledinaz (costume), Brian Nason (lighting) and Zach Moore (sound).

— By Kenneth Jones