After this week, theatre journalists and playgoers will tend to look upon an announcement of star casting with a jaundiced eye topped by a cocked brow. Television and film actors have always dealt somewhat frivolously with their stage assignments, demanding brief runs, days off and other perks. But recent days have vividly illustrated how many of our nation's celebrities put on and discard a return to the boards as casually as a new dress sent over gratis from a top designer.
Natasha Richardson opted to take a film assignment, forcing the Roundabout Theatre Company to postpone its Broadway production of Strindberg's Miss Julie. Around the same time, Kim Cattrall, one of the sought-after women of "Sex and the City," backed out of David Mamet's Off-Broadway premiere of Boston Marriage. (The capricious Cattrall was previously reported to be entertaining a London run in A Streetcar Named Desire.) Finally, Jenna Elfman, the star of TV's now-ended "Dharma and Greg" sitcom, reportedly withdrew from the forthcoming revival of Sweet Charity before anything further could be decided about the project.
These sudden exits followed the brief involvement of Ben Stiller in the Broadway revival of Glengarry Glen Ross and Cynthia Nixon's bowing out of Signature Theatre Company's planned January 2003 revival of Lanford Wilson's Talley's Folly. Alone among the above, Nixon, an eminently dependable performer, can be wholly forgiven for her casting two-step. She is pregnant, a fact which would be difficult to easily integrate into Wilson's tender courtship drama.
Boston Marriage, at least, managed to settle their casting quandary with lightning speed. Kate Burton, a thespian who has probably never backed out of a stage contract in her life, was drafted with due haste. She will star opposite Martha Plimpton. Anticipate a competitive atmosphere: Both actresses starred in high profile productions of Hedda Gabler last year.
Quite a bit of Broadway news filled the air this week. The most tantalizing bit of information had the hit production of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out becoming the third Public Theater production in a year to transfer to Broadway. The Walter Kerr Theatre, which Proof has jealously guarded as its own for two years, is the intended destination. Producer Carole Shorenstein Hayes—who conveniently holds commercial rights to both Take Me Out and Proof—admits she has a plan, but told the New York Times she's asked for a rewrite first. If the play makes the jump, it will be the prolific Greenberg's first Broadway show (not counting adaptations) since Eastern Standard, way back in 1989. Yasmina Reza's second New York premiere, The Unexpected Man played Off Broadway in 2000, but 2003 will apparently see the French playwright return to Broadway, where her Art triumphed. Reza's comedy Life x 3 will open on Broadway next year, with Ron Kastner producing. Also for Broadway is a new revival of Peter Nichols's Day in the Death of Joe Egg, which replaces the Roundabout Theatre Company's canceled Our Town. Still no word on what attractions will take the place of the postponed Miss Julie. One possibility, however, is Baby, the beloved but short-lived Broadway musical about three couples facing parenthood. Composer Richard Maltby, Jr., recently told Playbill On Line that the show was penciled in to bow on Broadway again as part of the Roundabout's 2003-04 season. However, with the current season to remake, the Roundabout could conceivably tap the musical for an earlier run.
Say Goodnight Gracie: The Love, Laughter and Life of George Burns , the new one-man show by Rupert Holmes starring Frank Gorshin, began its Broadway run at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Sept. 17. Four days later (Sept. 21) marks the first preview of the new musical, Amour, starring Malcolm Gets and Melissa Errico.
Off-Broadway news includes a show which may very well become Broadway news in time. Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman, whose production of Metamorphoses began at Off Broadway's Second Stage Theatre and transferred to Broadway, will return to New York venue with The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. The co production with Chicago's Goodman Theatre is set to begin at Second Stage June 3, 2003, following its run in Illinois.
Elsewhere Off-Broadway, Tuesdays With Morrie, the Jeffrey Hatcher stage version of the smash best-selling memoir by Mitch Albom, will make its debut Nov. 19, following previews, at the Minetta Lane Theatre. A three-hankie story of a sportswriter who reconnects with his terminally ill former professor, the book was previously made into a TV movie with Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon.
Lanford Wilson, who has been slogging around the regionals for a decade, watching his reputation slowly disintegrate, got a great piece of news Sept. 20 when the new Signature Theatre revival of his 1987 Burn This, was hailed as a revelation by the New York Times, whose Ben Brantley admitted he was wrong (gasp!) when he dismissed the play 15 years previous. Expect an extension, if possible, and new interest in the remainder of Signature's Wilson season (which includes two Wilson plays New York has never seen.)
Finally, a new rule from the Tony Award Administration Committee. Let me go on the record as saying that this is the best ruling that often silly, short-sighted, reactionary body has ever produced. The new rule states, "A play or musical that is determined by the Tony Awards Administration Committee (in its sole discretion) to be a 'classic' or in the historical or popular repertoire shall not be eligible for an Award in the Best Play or Best Musical Category but may be eligible in that appropriate Best Revival category." Hurrah! No longer will a very much alive Edward Albee have to compete against his revered, but very dead idol, Turgenev. No longer will press agents and producers be forced (or allowed) to argue disingenuously that that neat little text from M. Cocteau is actually—deep down, in essence, if you carefully read the new adaptation, or consider the director bold new vision, or willfully submit to a case of amnesia—a new play, and thus eligible for the Best New Play trophies. Mind you, I don't expect the producers of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song to desist from mounting "new" campaigns for their shows. No one ruling could single-handedly visit common sense upon the addled, driven mind of money-mad Broadway. I just expect them to lose their battles this time, and the theatre community hold its collective head a little higher.