The 15th anniversary line-up for the Studio season at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre will feature plays about the elderly and the evergreen -- that is, plays about aging and plays about entertainers whose legacy remains timeless.
Will Stutts, a perennial soloist at the Walnut Studio, kicks things off with a special cabaret-style presentation of his Noel Coward at the Cafe de Paris, Nov. 3-Dec. 5. Coward standards sung in the show include "You Were There," "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington" and "Nina." Author-performer Stutts has called the Coward piece, devised in 1989, both his most rewarding and well-received one-man show. Previews began Oct. 29.
Dec. 16 marks the hundredth anniversary of Coward's birth, an event to be marked on Broadway by the opening of his comedy-drama, Waiting in the Wings, starring Lauren Bacall, Barnard Hughes, Simon Jones and Rosemary Murphy. Other Coward plays include Blithe Spirit and Hay Fever.
Officially opening the Studio On 3 season, Jan. 4-16, 2000, will be Donald Margulies' drama (a Pulitzer finalist) Collected Stories. Directed by Richard M. Parison, Jr., Stories tells of a middle-aged novelist and professor who finds her reputation -- and her past -- coopted by her perky protegee. Staged Off-Broadway in 1997, the play was revived only a few months later as a vehicle for Uta Hagen. Margulies' other plays include Sight Unseen and The Loman Family Picnic. After Stories, Stutts returns with his eighth world premiere, Edwin Forrest, Feb. 1-13, 2000. Forrest was one of the first great American tragedians, as well as a native son of Philadelphia.
Feb. 29-March 12, 2000 then brings remembrances of a great comedienne, Beatrice Lillie. Steven Bloom and Susan Borofsky's Every Other Inch a Lady recalls the life of this stage star. Bloom directs, with Borofsky starring.
One of the more popular and acclaimed plays on the regional circuit, Vigil, arrives March 28-April 9, 2000. Morris Panych's dark comedy tells of a lonely bank clerk impatiently awaiting the expected death of his aunt. Director and theatre critic Frank Burd will stage the piece.
Old age again takes the stage in Visiting Mr. Green, running April 25-May 21, 2000. This Off-Broadway hit (a vehicle for Eli Wallach and then Hal Linden) tells of a yuppie who accidentally hits an old Jewish man with his car. As penance, the young exec has to look in on Mr. Green and make sure he's properly taken care of. A friendship develops -- that is, until the young man's sexual orientation becomes an ideological barrier.
As for the Walnut Street mainstage season -- its 17th -- it's a roster of plain janes and outcasts, featured in Buddy, The Heiress, Phantom, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and La Cage aux Folles.
Though the five productions have no specific connection, each centers on an outsider either forcing his way into the spotlight or finding contentment in being left alone and living differently from others.
Opening the season, Sept. 7-Oct. 24 (officially opening Sept. 15), is Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Alan Janes' musical about a skinny Texas kid with glasses whose mix of rockabilly and pop made him a legend. Buddy, featuring such songs as "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be The Day," played on Broadway in 1990. The musical, which alludes to but doesn't show the plane crash that killed the young singer-songwriter, was based on an original idea by Laurie Mansfield and features additional material by Rob Bettinson. Christopher Sutton (Blood Brothers at the Walnut) plays Holly in the musical.
Ticket sales have been brisk, leading the Walnut to add a matinee on the final date, Oct. 24. "We would have added even another date," Walnut spokesperson Maria Sticco told Playbill On-Line, "but we have to start the load-in for the next show [Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's Phantom]."
In this version of the gothic tale, a disfigured musician lives in a labyrinth under the Paris Opera House. This arrangement works tolerably well until he falls for a young opera and will stop at nothing to advance her career. Like Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, the Kopit-Yeston Phantom (running Nov. 9-Jan. 9, 2000) is based on a novel by Gaston Leroux.
Alfred Uhry's Tony-winning The Last Night of Ballyhoo arrives Jan. 18-March 5, 2000. A look at a mid-scale Jewish family in "Gone With The Wind"-era Atlanta, Ballyhoo centers on two cousins, one pretty and socially accepted, the other more plain and getting desperate to find a husband.
Following the Phantom, the Walnut gets the Goetzes -- Ruth and Augustus, that is, authors of The Heiress, based on Henry James' novel "Washington Square." A 1995 Broadway staging of the show starring Cherry Jones won the Tony Award for Best Revival. The Heiress, running March 14-April 30, 2000, tells of a painfully shy young woman who falls in love with a dashing bounder.
Finishing the season, May 16-July 2, are Georges and Albin, the loving couple at the heart of La Cage aux Folles. The two are openly, contentedly gay (Georges runs a nightclub, Albin cross-dresses for the nightly revues), but they're suddenly forced to hide their sexual leanings when Georges' straight son wants to marry into a prudish family. Harvey Fierstein penned the libretto and Jerry Herman the score for this Tony winning musical.
Subscriptions to the Walnut season range from $40 (students/seniors) to $202. For tickets and information call (215) 574-3598.
-- By David Lefkowitz