PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 27-Feb. 2: The Luck of Leight

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 27-Feb. 2: The Luck of Leight Warren Leight may very well be the luckiest playwright in America. Never mind all that not-successful-until-he-was-40 stuff. That's old news. Let's look at the track record since then. Back in spring of 1998, Leight's Side Man was homeless, praised in a limited Off-Broadway run, but seemingly dead in the water. Then the Roundabout Theatre Company's planned production of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David revue, What the World Needs Now, short-circuited, and the nonprofit found itself with a vacancy in its mainstage season. Side Man happily slipped in, later transferring to a commercial Broadway house and then handily capturing the Tony for best play.
The Play About the Baby; director Mike Nichols; playwright Warren Leight.
The Play About the Baby; director Mike Nichols; playwright Warren Leight. (Photo by <i>Baby</i> by Carol Rosegg; Leight by Aubrey Reuben)

Warren Leight may very well be the luckiest playwright in America. Never mind all that not-successful-until-he-was-40 stuff. That's old news. Let's look at the track record since then. Back in spring of 1998, Leight's Side Man was homeless, praised in a limited Off-Broadway run, but seemingly dead in the water. Then the Roundabout Theatre Company's planned production of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David revue, What the World Needs Now, short-circuited, and the nonprofit found itself with a vacancy in its mainstage season. Side Man happily slipped in, later transferring to a commercial Broadway house and then handily capturing the Tony for best play.

Earlier this month, Leight's latest play, Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine, opened at the Mark Taper Forum. Star John Spencer had said the show would move to New York City in 2001, but, with the typical spring theatre crunch, it was hard to see where it could go. But, then the serendipitous dominos began to fall again. Sarah Jessica Parker entered into talks to star in David Lindsay Abaire's Wonder of the World, the April attraction at Manhattan Theatre Club. But her "Sex and the City" shooting schedule runs through June, causing a scheduling overlap. So MTC begins to consider pushing Wonder back to a summer slot to accommodate the actress. But that would leave a gaping hole in the spring line-up. What's a nonprofit to do? Why, call Warren Leight and see if he has a new play with no New York home.

When director Mike Nichols calls actors and asks if they'd like to do a little theatre gig with him, they tend to say yes. He has long exerted that sort of attraction on thespians. One gets the impression that if he called Bernhardt and Duse and asked them if they'd like to do a female version of The Sunshine Boys in a 99-seat hole-in-the-wall on Staten Island, they'd drop everything. Witness the cast of The Seagull, which, as it turns out, will be done in Central Park this summer after all. Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline will head the cast as Arkadina and Trigorin, with Natalie Portman and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Konstantin. Supporting them will be Christopher Walken, John Goodman, Allison Janney, Debra Monk, Stephen Spinella and Larry Pine. Walken, Goodman and Janney have previously carried Delacorte productions all by themselves.

Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby opened Feb. 1 to the best reviews the playwright has received since, well, his last new work, Three Tall Women. Elsewhere Off-Broadway, the long expected New York City debut of Richard Nelson's Madame Melville will commence April 2 at the Promenade Theatre. Macaulay Culkin, alone among the cast, will make the journey over the sea. And Love, Janis: the Songs, The Soul of Janis Joplin, a new musical conceived, adapted and directed by Randal Myler, will begin previews Off-Broadway at the space which formerly housed the Village Gate, on March 29. The show played the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, Long Island, last summer and had been eyeing a New York run ever since. Myler directed and co-authored Ain't Nothin' But the Blues.

You want touring news? We've got touring news. Rex Smith and Rachel York will play the egotistical, feuding leads in Kiss Me, Kate when the hit Broadway musical embarks on its national tour starting in June. The three leads for the Elton John-Tim Rice tuner Aida, beginning in March, are Simone as the titular slave, Patrick Cassidy as her captor and lover, and Kelli Fournier as his royal girlfriend, Amneris. Finally, as expected, Richard H. Blake will play Tony Manero opposite Jeanine Meyers as Stephanie Mangano in the road company of Saturday Night Fever. Also in the cast is the grown-up Aileen Quinn. Years ago, she played forlorn Manhattan orphan Annie in the film version of that musical. Now she is the forlorn Brooklyn disco dame, Annette. Annie ended up adopted by the richest guy in the country. Annette is spurned by a semi literate disco dancer from Bay Ridge. A hard knock life, indeed. — By Robert Simonson