A number of dangling casting questions were answered this week. Perhaps most pressing was who would replace the seemingly irreplaceable Mary-Louise Parker, who is scheduled to leave the Tony-winning Broadway hit Proof on Sept. 9. Many names were bandied about, but Broadway's second Catherine turned out to be Jennifer Jason Leigh, the film star known for her wrenching, melancholy portraits. Leigh was last seen in these parts as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She will start her stay in Proof on Sept. 11.
The four leads of the London engagement of Kiss Me, Kate were announced. For months, it seemed that both Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie would repeat their leading roles. That proved only half right. Mazzie's on board, but Mitchell's no where to be seen. Playing Fred Graham is, instead, Broadway journeyman Brent Barrett, of Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun fame. Michael Berresse will again be Bill Calhoun and Nancy Anderson, the U.S. tour Lois Lane, will play that part in the West End.
Liz Callaway, Phyllis Somerville, Mary Gordon Murray and Garrett Long will star in the New York premiere of the award-winning new musical, The Spitfire Grill, based on the film of the same name. This project, which is produced by Playwrights Horizons, must rank as the most bittersweet of the new season. The musical has a book shared by lyricist Fred Alley and composer James Valcq. The rising Midwestern talent Alley died unexpectedly in Door County, WI, May 1, while jogging. He had a previously undiagnosed heart ailment.
Anne Jackson, not Eileen Brennan, will be the title character in the Colleagues Theatre Company's Off-Broadway staging of The Madwoman of Chaillot, running Oct. 2-28. The multiple Tony Award nominee will join Academy Award winner Kim Hunter. The Jean Giraudoux play will be presented at The Neighborhood Playhouse in Manhattan.
In other casting news, two fall Broadway attractions, Mamma Mia! and The Women, revealed additions to their acting corps. And the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins finally went official with a piece of casting; Douglas Sills will be John Wilkes Booth. The news was accompanied by the revelation that the show would not open at the Booth — a very appropriate choice, irony-wise, since the theatre was named after Wilkes' brother Edwin — but at the Music Box. No explanation for the change of tenancy was given, but one quickly presented itself. It seems that the star-studded Central Park staging of Chekhov's The Seagull — which stars Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Christopher Walken and is directed by Mike Nichols — is seriously considering a life beyond its current Delacorte Theatre run, which ends Aug. 26. Sources have producers currently exploring the possibility of a transfer to an indoor theatre sometime this fall, with several of the venture's many famous names remaining aboard. The Booth makes sense as it was one of the theatres Nichols & Co. had considered last year, before settling on the park. All is very tentative and hush-hush, and very dependant, of course, on whether the actors' schedules can be worked out. John Patrick Shanley's caustic divorce comedy, Where's My Money?, which had a popular, but not critically well-received, summer Off-Broadway run by LAByrinth Theatre Company, has been given a further lease on life by Manhattan Theatre Club, which has given it a fall slot at its Stage II space. Meanwhile, another limited run summer favorite, the Barrow Group's revival of Craig Lucas' Blue Window — which had both a popular and critical following—is returning. It will reopen on Sept. 13 at the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre space in Soho for six-week stay. Both shows will lose something in the move: their biggest stars. John Ortiz, a member of the cast of Money, will not return for the MTC mounting; nor will Marin Hinkle, the biggest name in Window, continue on.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn's By Jeeves has finally gotten what it's wanted for years: a booking at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre. The production, first at Goodspeed Musicals then at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, has made a couple of tilts at the windmill that is New York, but to no avail. This time it appears to be a sure thing. The producers have even announced dates: previews begin Oct. 17, opening night is Oct. 28.
Finally, back to The Women. Among the new names this week attached to the project was that of a man. He won't appear onstage of course—the play has no parts for males—but his influence will be seen everywhere. The former King of Seventh Avenue and neophyte cabaret artist Isaac Mizrahi will design the costumes for the show.
—By Robert Simonson