The 1999-2000 season is proving to be one of many homecomings. Performers once well known for their stage work, but long absent from the boards, are making long-in-coming returns to the theatre. For instance, it's been 18 years since Lauren Bacall, now rehearsing Waiting in the Wings, was Woman of the Year. Christopher Walken, once a constant on New York stages, is back from The Dead, over at Playwrights Horizons. And renowned David Mamet interpreter William H. Macy is back doing Mamet, at the Atlantic Theatre Company, for the first time since Oleanna.
This past week saw the return of more prodigal sons and daughters. It was announced that theatre vets Mandy Patinkin and Eartha Kitt, as well as film star Toni Collette, will star in the new Michael John LaChiusa-George C. Wolfe musical The Wild Party, due to bow on Broadway this coming spring.
The musical represents a significant homecoming for Patinkin, who still cuts a impressive theatrical profile while having not taken part in a major stage ensemble piece in nearly a decade. The man who created unforgettable characters in Evita and Sunday in the Park with George has elected to spend most of the last decade's stage time concertizing, most recently in the Yiddish-music piece Mamaloshen, seen at the Belasco last fall. To see him in a new musical with other people on stage should prove a balm to long-frustrated fans.
Kitt, meanwhile, has spent much of the last 20 years purring in one cabaret or another, last appearing on Broadway in 1978's Timbuktu.
Debra Winger is perhaps not best known as a creature of the stage, but the Oscar-nominated actress ("Terms of Endearment," "An Officer and a Gentleman") will star with Arliss Howard in Chekhov's Ivanov, at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA -- under Russian director Yuri Yeremin, no less. Winger and Howard previously co-starred in How I Learned to Drive at ART a year ago. Making another return of sorts is Parade, which announced this week the dates of national tour which may bring the star-crossed, Tony-winning musical back to New York. Parade closed last February after a shortish run at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont, finding the skills of director Harold Prince, composer Jason Robert Brown and bookwriter Alfred Uhry were not enough to ensure a hit and save the show from lukewarm notices. After receiving nine Tony nominations, however, the creators began talking almost immediately of remounting the work. The 2000 tour will take the tuner to Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Pittsburgh and possibly Boston and L.A., among other cities.
There was good news for another Lincoln Center Theater musical: Contact, as expected, will make the jump from the intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse to the more spacious Vivian Beaumont this March.
A couple of theatre troupes this week illustrated the benefits of having a deep bench of allied performers. Last weekend, the Drama Dept. found itself in a fix when Frederick Weller, one of the stars of Off Broadway's The Country Club, left the show to take a film job. The hole was quickly filled, however; playwright, Douglas Carter Beane, and director, Christopher Ashley, both Drama Dept. members, turned to their fellow club member, T. Scott Cunningham, to join the Club. Cunningham now plays Weller's role. A similarly situation cropped up in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The theatre's production of Side Man was happily extended, but ensemble member Rick Snyder could no longer play the lead. One Steppenwolfer replaced another as Gary Cole stepped into Snyder's shoes.
Finally, the week took its toll on a number of theatre notables, including producer Irving Siders (the recent Dreamgirls tour) and actor Richard B. Shull, who had been appearing as a reclusive film producer in Epic Proportions.
George Forrest, composer of Kismet and Song of Norway, died on Oct. 10 at the age of 84. Two days later, Liliane Montevecchi began performances as faded ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya in the Houston's Theatre Under the Stars' revival of Grand Hotel. Montevecchi originated the role in the Forrest Robert Wright musical when the show bowed on Broadway in 1989. The songwriter is dead; long live the song.
-- By Robert Simonson