PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Jumpers Jumps In

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Jumpers Jumps In
 
Well, whaddaya know? Jerry Herman appears to be right after all: The Man in the Moon is a lady.
From Top: Simon Russell Beale and Essie Davis, Nicholas Woodeson, Nicky Henson, David Leveaux, Mia Farrow and son Seamus, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Cumpsty, Nicholas Hytner, Famke Janssen, Jack O'Brien, Tom Stoppard and Glenn Close
From Top: Simon Russell Beale and Essie Davis, Nicholas Woodeson, Nicky Henson, David Leveaux, Mia Farrow and son Seamus, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Cumpsty, Nicholas Hytner, Famke Janssen, Jack O'Brien, Tom Stoppard and Glenn Close Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Leastways, that's the findings of Tom Stoppard in the closing moments of his Jumpers, which officially began its first Broadway revival April 25 at the Brooks Atkinson. From a state of celestial suspension, sitting prettily on a lunar crescent in the center of the stage, Essie Davis peered down at the shambles of her life and marriage—a decidedly messy scene, cluttered with the dorky don she's cuckolding, played by Simon Russell Beale, a corpse she created that keeps coming and going at the strangest times, a cop in less than hot pursuit (Nicholas Woodeson) and a smarmy shrink (Nicky Henson). A team of ten tumbling philosophers bounding in at intervals increased the chaos quotient

"I love the character's sense of humor," admitted the 43-year-old Beale, at the post-premiere party at Tavern on the Green. Beale makes his Broadway debut in the production. "I love the fact that he finds his intellectual activity funny. I think he's a very human character—well, he's a loser, actually. He'll never succeed in what he wants to succeed in. I find that attractive."

Beale's turn as this ineffectual, intellectual Everyman comes after a large roster of classical roles. His director, David Leveaux, defends this particular Broadway debut decision. "I think the beauty of his choice to come to Broadway for the first time with Jumpers is like Laurence Olivier when he did The Entertainer," he said. "That was a great classical actor saying, `But, look, the contemporary modern theatre is where I can fly, too.' I'm glad that he has chosen to do this rather than to do Shakespeare. It's a more daring decision to make."

Leveaux, who won a Tony four years ago when he found a romantic pulse coursing through a revival of Stoppard's The Real Thing, has capitalized on similar stirrings in Jumpers. "There were assumptions about Stoppard when this play first appeared here 30 years ago, but he has steadily unraveled into something infinitely more emotional. This is a phenomenally romantic play because it has at its core two people who have an intuitive notion that there's got to be more to life than meets the eye. Which is a completely romantic position. That's not just a sentimental diversion. That's the facts."

For further enlightenment, first-nighters retired to the multi-watted Tavern. Among them: Mia Farrow (with son Seamus), Richard Easton, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Cumpsty, David Marshall Grant, Roger Bart, Douglas Sills, Eric Idle (with his Spamelot composer, John Du Prez), Nicholas Hytner (artistic director of the National, from which Jumpers made the jump to Broadway), Famke Janssen, Kate Burton, Ian Holm, Wendy Wasserstein, David Ives, John Guare, Jack Klugman, Dana Ivey, Peter Boyle, Jack Noseworthy, Eli Wallach, Jack O'Brien and Walter Bobbie. The pretty-in-pink Celeste Holm enjoyed a seat of honor at the Tavern—and more will follow on Thursday when her 85th birthday will be celebrated with a benefit blow-out at Town Hall for a pet charity of hers, Arts Horizon. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward will be honored also, she said, for their work to the organization which last year brought art to more than a million under-privileged and at-risk kids. Centerpiece of the evening will be a screening of Holm's (and Elia Kazan's) Oscar-winning vehicle, 1947's "Gentleman's Agreement," followed by a panel discussion with Kitty Carlisle Hart (whose Moss wrote the screenplay) and Cecilia Peck and Julie Garfield, the daughters of Holm's co-stars, Gregory Peck and John Garfield. A party at Sardi's will follow the special showing.

The original six-member London cast of this Jumpers jumped intact to Broadway, and the acrobatics who counterpoint the verbal gymnastics with physical gymnastics were all hired locally. The most conspicuous, and overqualified, of these is Michael Arnold, who five years ago won an Astaire Award for playing the dance captain in 42nd Street and who recently choreographed the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical, Bounce.

Arnold doesn't know what hat—dancer or choreographer—he'll wear next. "I used to have a real battle with that, because I used to think of it as an either/or proposition, but I don't look at it that way right now," he admitted. "I want to work in either field if I'm lucky enough to work on great projects. This one was fun. When they'd ask, `Does anyone tumble?,' I stopped putting my hand up years ago, and then my agents called me and said, `Well, David Leveaux is directing, and it's Tom Stoppard's Jumpers. I said, `Okay, I tumble.' To work with them, I was more than happy to throw a little flip in there."

The job description for the jumpers was pretty rangy—one of them does a speed-up walk of evolution from ape to Tarzan—and Arnold says the casting director threw a wide net: "It's really an eclectic group—Shakespearean actors and singers and gymnasts and dancers—and they just pulled everybody's specialty from them. They said, `We'll try it.'"

Glenn Close was in attendance, and not because of her contribution to the Tarzan myth (20 years ago she dubbed Andie MacDowell's voice in "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes"). "Essie Davis is a great friend of mine," she said. (And a great, Olivier Award-winning Stella to Close's Blanche in London's last A Streetcar Named Desire.)

Close, who owes her 1984 Tony to Stoppard's The Real Thing, says her next stage stint will be A Little Night Music, which she sees coming together two years down the road.

The Glass Menagerie, which Close was once to do in London, will likely be done by Leveaux on Broadway—but he's not promising. "Honestly, we start talking tomorrow about what's next, because I deliberately couldn't commit to anything immediately after Jumpers. It has been a fairly remorseless schedule" [and it tail-gated his Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof]. "I'm not sure, but I think I would probably like to do Menagerie with Jessica Lange. We're not fixed on that yet, despite what the New York Post has to say"—there's a laugh and an edge here—"as usual, in total command of the facts. "

Subtext: "Knuckles" Leveaux and Post reporter Michael Riedel had a much-publicized donnybrook at Angus McIndoe's restaurant the night Fiddler opened over some of Reidel's needling. Unfortunately, the director left the next day for London to start rehearsing Jumpers and missed his status as a folk hero in the theatre community. "Chita Rivera called me," he said, "She said, `There may be street parties when you get back.'"

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