Late last month, the good news came that "Bram and Alice," the new CBS sitcom, had been canceled after four episodes. Schadenfreude, you say? Not exactly. It's just that Roger Bart and Katie Finneran, who won lasting fame for The Producers and Noises Off, respectively, had parts in the program. Theatre aficionados tend to feel a bit miffed when stage actors, moments after being anointed as stars by audiences and critics, flit off to Hollywood (which is what Bart and Finneran did). It's not that anyone wants to see them fail, but rather that a small screen pink slip is often followed by the signing of a Broadway or Off-Broadway contract. So call it schadenfreude with a purpose beyond spite — that purpose being keeping good actors on the stage.
And the cancellation of "Bram and Alice" is already bearing fruit. For Bart is returning to The Producers, which has had middling success with its replacement actors. Stepping up from his original assignment as Roger DeBris' sibilant assistant, Carmen Ghia, he will play the starring role of milquetoast accountant Leo Bloom, which has been played by Steven Weber since Matthew Broderick's departure. It is an astute piece of casting, since it has become clear that the original cast members remain the people best attuned to the spirit and tone of the piece. Which leads me to a humble casting suggestion: when Gary Beach tires of playing DeBris, bump him up to Max Bialystock, where the chemistry between him and the actor playing Leo (that is, Bart) already exists in spades.
In the bout between box office powerhouses The Producers and Mamma Mia!, we have a winner. At least, by London standards. Mamma Mia!, which has been minting money at the Prince Edward since 1999, will be made to move in 2004 to the Prince of Wales to make way for the Mel Brooks hit. Broderick and Nathan Lane are expected to return to the show.
We've known for months that Antonio Banderas would be Guido in the 2003 Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Nine. Now the women in his life have been confirmed. The names (which have been public knowledge for a while) include Chita Rivera, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Mary Stuart Masterson, Nell Campbell, Saundra Santiago and Deidre Goodwin. There was casting news, too, from Oklahoma!, where former child star Patty Duke will assume the role of Aunt Eller. Strangely enough, if she stays with the show long enough, she may see a Broadway revival of The Miracle Worker, the title with which she is still most associated.
We've now been in a new decade for a couple years, so it's high time for another Broadway Medea. Euripides' catalogue doesn't otherwise get much exercise on Broadway, but drama's most murderous mom gets a showcase about every 10 years. Fiona Shaw is the current model. She slaughtered audiences at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October. Now, she'll take her act to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for a limited run, Dec. 4-Feb. 14. No thunderously slamming metal panels this time, as with Diana Rigg in 1994. Just buckets of blood. Off-Broadway, the excitement is not casting but new plays. Harold Perrineau, Jr., Zeljko Ivanek and Glenn Fitzgerald star in Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange, the big noise from London, which began previews Nov. 6 at Off Broadway's Atlantic Theatre Company. Boston Marriage, David Mamet's latest play—and perhaps his most atypical (a period piece with only female characters!)—began performances at The Public Theater the same day. Kate Burton and Martha Plimpton star. And at New York Theatre Workshop, Far Away has the winning combination of playwright Caryl Churchill, hot director Stephen Daldry, and Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand and an hour-long running time.
Finally, nobody's saying much about it, but it looks like Disney's next stage musical will be an adaptation of the animated film The Little Mermaid. A "round-table reading" in February 2003 has been confirmed, and librettist David Ives has said the show will have an out-of-town tryout in spring 2004 and potentially reach Broadway in fall 2004. Mermaid will be directed by Matthew Bourne, who did pretty well with swans a few years back and should get along swimmingly with fish.