PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 13-19: Assorted Dolls

News   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 13-19: Assorted Dolls
Paper Doll is the Sweet Charity of the Broadway-bound play set. Just as with the long-in-the-works Cy Coleman musical revival, it's hard to keep track of Paper Doll's leading lady scorecard. Marlo Thomas, Fran Drescher, Dixie Carter, Andrea Martin—they'd all been in the running to play the bigger-than-life novelist Jacqueline Susann in the Broadway's version of the romantic comedy by Mark Hampton and Barbara J. Zitwer. (Thomas and Carter actually did essay the part, in Pittsburgh Public Theater and Long Wharf Theatre, respectively.)

But the show's constantly-postponed Broadway debut will feature none of the above. Instead, the producers have netted a figure with far more theatrical credibility, Swoosie Kurtz—Kurtz of two Tony Awards; Kurtz who just got done playing another tornado of an author, Lillian Hellman, in Imaginary Friends; Kurtz, who seems to have come fully back to the theatre after years in Hollywood.

Another redoubtable stage creature with two Tonys at home, Judd Hirsch, will play Susann's manager-husband, Irving Mansfield. The affair will open at Circle in the Square Dec. 8, giving the Broadway fall season its tenth (gasp) new play.

As for Doll's musical counterpart in changeability, Sweet Charity has a new suitor: Melanie Griffith, the movie cupie doll who, in Broadway's Chicago, has resurrected her career in with an apparently beguiling (to some, anyway) minimalistic approach to song and dance. Now, she hopes to give her fellow film nymphs Marisa Tomei and Jane Krakowski a little competition for the lead in Charity. She admitted to the New York Times that she'd probably have to audition for Barry and Fran Weissler, the producers who took a risk on her for Chicago and will bankroll Sweet Charity. Of course, for now, this whim has as much substance as the actress' purported plans to bring Chicago to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, this fall's Weissler revival, Wonderful Town, has its leads. In addition to the announced Donna Murphy, they are Gregg Edelman and film newcomer Jennifer Westfeldt, of "Kissing Jessica Stein" fame.

Can it be that Alan Bates is proprietary about his past vehicles? Could he have sent his son Benedick Bates to Boston to make sure Nathan Lane does right by the title role in Simon Gray's Butley, which is being presented at the Huntington Theatre Company? (The role won Alan Bates a Tony on Broadway in 1973.) Or did the Huntington and its savvy artistic director Nicholas Martin recognize a great piece of attention-getting casting when they saw it? Or could it be, perhaps, that the younger Bates was simply right for a role in the drama? (Such pure motivations are always a reporter's last guess.) Whatever the reason, the production begins on Oct. 24. And if the Roundabout Theatre Company and Lincoln Center Theater aren't secretly poised to bring the show into New York afterwards, then I don't know my opportunistic nonprofits.

Young, unknown playwrights took a knock this month. The O'Neill Playwrights Conference—the famed development program of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, which for decades has been a seedbed for young writers—has ended its policy of open play submissions in 2004. Put in its place at the Connecticut operation will be a selection system anchored by an arbitrating "National Selection Committee" of 150 theatre professionals, which will nominate 250 dramatists to submit full scripts. Aspiring scribes are well accustomed to the phrases "no unsolicited scripts" and "agent submission only." They serve as roadblocks to nearly every major nonprofit theatre in America, and an increasing number of small New York troupes. The O'Neill was one of the last first-class operations to welcome texts from the Great Unrepresented. The O'Neill cried budget and staff constraints, and no doubt they spoke the truth. But one can't help but feel that the net result of this policy change will benefit those already wealthy in opportunities. Finally, shows with a gimmick just don't seem to die so easily. Cats proclaimed it would shutter, but then extended months before exiting. De La Guarda announced a closing date earlier this year, then switched back to an open run. Now we have the unconquerable Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding. The 15-year-old battleship closed on May 18, but now will return on Oct. 2.

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