PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 20-26: The Quiet Meehan

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 20-26: The Quiet Meehan Hard to think of theatre folks taking off for a week or two during the typical vacation month of August with so much going on. Within the space of a fortnight, Broadway is suddenly alight. The new revival of Herb Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport opened on July 25, the same day the Roundabout Theatre Company's lavish go at Rodgers and Hart's The Boys from Syracuse began previews, and just one day before the first preview of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, starring Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci.

Hard to think of theatre folks taking off for a week or two during the typical vacation month of August with so much going on. Within the space of a fortnight, Broadway is suddenly alight. The new revival of Herb Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport opened on July 25, the same day the Roundabout Theatre Company's lavish go at Rodgers and Hart's The Boys from Syracuse began previews, and just one day before the first preview of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, starring Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci.

The center of this hive of activity is Hairspray, the John Waters derived musical which has already been ordained the early hit of the season. Praise has been heaped on stars Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur (picture that name up in lights), not to mention composer Marc Shaiman and director Jack O'Brien. Rather overlooked is Broadway's quiet hitmaker, librettist Tom Meehan.

Meehan was the only man not named Mel Brooks who was credited with penning The Producers. It was difficult to know what he contributed to that comedy phenom, which is so stamped with Brooks' personality, but observers suspected his role was not insubstantial. Meehan did, after all, write the book to another smash, Annie, winning a Tony Award for it.

But with Hairspray, Meehan has had a hand in blockbuster musical comedies two years running. Again, he is a mere co-librettist (with Mark O'Donnell). But the value of his involvement can now not be discounted in any way. (If the buzz of that yet-to-be reviewed show is to be believed.) Broadway's most low profile collaborator has the golden touch. Backers looking for the next hit should simply find out where Meehan's putting in his two cents these days. (It should be noted that Meehan's musical with Martin Charnin, Robin Hood: The Legend Continues, planned for a run at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago in 2001-2002, was quietly postponed by the troupe for further development.)

Former film princess Molly Ringwald appears to have gone in for the stage. Earlier this year, she drew plaudits for her performance as Sally Bowles early in 2002. Before that, she did a stint in Off-Broadway's tick, tick...BOOM!. Now, she has also been mentioned for a return engagement in Broadway's Cabaret this summer, and has been cast in Enchanted April, which will open on Broadway in—when else?—April. Having perhaps at last tired of discussing her and other women's private parts, playwright-performer Eve Ensler is turning her attention to the rest of her body. Her latest one-woman show, called The Good Body, is about the world-wide effort by women to make themselves beautiful, according to the dictates of their culture. Ensler interviewed women from over 30 countries to discover how they mutilate and manipulate their bodies. "After I came to love my vagina, I started to despise my stomach," said Ensler. "My journey is about coming to love my stomach." Broadway in 2004 is the goal.

Thunder Knocking on the Door, the blues musical by Grammy Award-winning composer Keb' Mo' and playwright Keith Glover, failed to make an impression Off-Broadway, despite the presence of stars Leslie Uggams and Chuck Cooper. It will close on July 28. From the Death of Civilization Department comes news that "Liza and David," the weekly reality show that follows the lives of Broadway icon Liza Minnelli and David Gest, is a go. The show, hoping to capitalize on the phenomenal success of MTV's "The Osbournes", will play on VH1. The newlyweds would be filmed weekly from their New York City apartment, both alone and with fellow entertainer friends like Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. Now would be a good time for those friends to change their phone numbers.

Finally, the quote of the week comes from the always provocative Michael Riedel, theatre columnist of the New York Post. While filling his column with praise for Hairspray, he crowned Harvey Fierstein with an unusual laurel, decreeing that he was "going to replace Nathan Lane as Broadway's favorite funny gay fat man." Competition in that category was quite fierce, was it?