It seems that speculation as to who would replace Bernadette Peters in the Broadway revival of Irving Berlins' Annie Get Your Gun began the day after she signed her contract. All sorts of disparate names have been bandied about, including Jasmine Guy, Marie Osmond, Andrea McArdle, Kathie Lee Gifford, Marilu Henner (who eventually headlined the tour) and Ann-Margaret. And the gossip mills reached a fevered pitch in the last few weeks as Peters' departure date at Sept. 5 loomed and still no successor was named. Finally, an announcement was made on Aug. 10, with the somewhat surprising news that the new Annie Oakley would be ex-Charlie's Angel, Cheryl Ladd (now going by Cheryl Ladd Russell).
The replacement for Tom Wopat as Frank Butler is yet to be revealed. And country star Reba McEntire is reportedly still being wooed to play Annie early next year. But for now, the ad boys have Ladd to play around with. One suggestion for a new poster: recycle the "Charlie's Angels" girls-with-guns logo, only this time with Butler and Oakley silhouetted against a background of flame.
For all its accolades and timeliness, Moises Kaufman's journalistic theatre piece, The Laramie Project couldn't make a go of it this summer at the Union Square Theatre Off-Broadway. The show will close on Sept. 2. (Though, as some consolation, the piece will be made into an HBO film, penned by Kaufman and featuring the original cast.) Jumping into the vacated Union Square on Sept. 19 will be August Wilson's Jitney, a steady performer since opening at the Second Stage Theatre on April 25. Originally set to run through May 21, audience enthusiasm and a clutch of awards resulted in several extensions. The freeing up of the Union Square is a lucky break for the Wilson show, which would have been forced to vacate its current home with the advent of the new Second Stage season, which begins on Nov. 16 with Edward Albee's Tiny Alice. After that play, Second Stage artistic director Carole Rothman will need a vacation, and, indeed, will be taking one, for a full six months beginning January 2001. Actor Mark Linn-Baker will fill in during the interim.
At the La Jolla Playhouse, what comes around, goes around. The regional house was thrown for a loop last month when its new artistic director, Anne Hamburger, announced she would decamp to Disney after only a year on the job. But all is calm now, for taking her place is a familiar face: Des McAnuff. McAnuff first came to La Jolla in 1982 when the theatre was being revived and served from the first opening June 24, 1983, through 1994. On his watch came such La Jolla triumphs as Big River, The Who's Tommy and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying . He will assume responsibility for the theatre immediately.
In Chicago, meanwhile, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company is turning to a Broadway veteran to star in its first-ever venture into musical theatre, selecting Judy Kuhn (Les Miz, Chess) for the title role in the new Mike Reid-Sarah Schlesinger-written, Tina Landau-directed The Ballad of Little Jo. In the 19th century tale, Kuhn will be born into east coast money, have a child out of wedlock, be banished by her family to the west, get robbed and thrown from a train and live the rest of her life as a man. In other words, it's a long way from Cossette. The musical begins previews on Sept. 21. One of the few big Off-Broadway successes of the summer, Rob Ackerman's Tabletop, will close this weekend in the wake of sold-out houses and rave reviews. The play takes place in an urban studio where beverage and food commercials are shot and in which a team of professionals are endeavoring to a new frosty fruit drink look as delectable as possible. A future for the Working Theatre show seems likely, however; commercial producers are on board and money is being collected.
Finally, just months after the death of John Gielgud, the English-speaking stage lost another giant, Alec Guinness; the 86-year-old actor died on Aug. 5. Giegud, as it happened, gave Guinness his first big chance, inviting him in 1934 to play Osric in Hamlet. Four years later, he played the title role. Though Guinness did little theatre after winning a Tony for Dylan in 1964, and remains best known for his film work (most often recognized, to his constant chagrin, for "Star Wars"), the mark he made upon the stage remains significant. He was, perhaps, one of the first non-star stars, an identifiable chameleon, famous for being nondescript (that is, in physical features, not in talent). As Kenneth Tynan wrote, "His stage presence is quite without amplitude; and his face, except when, temporarily, make-up transfigures it, is a signless zero. The conclusion is inescapable: a big performance from him must concentrate on the interior, not the exterior of the character he is playing. His territory is the man within." All of which sounds like the ideal description of a good actor.