PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Little Dog Laughed — The Hustle and Bustle of Broadway

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Little Dog Laughed — The Hustle and Bustle of Broadway White lightning struck the Cort Theatre Nov. 13, and it had nothing to do with the torrential rain pounding its roof. Inside, a Texas tornado named Julie White was ripping up the house with a motormouth set somewhere between regaling and sidesplitting.
Julie White; Swoosie Kurtz, Scott Ellis; Douglas Carter Beane; Tom Everett Scott, Ari Graynor; Johnny Galecki, Jane Krakowski; Dana Ivey; Tom Kirdahy, Terrence McNally; BD Wong; Dan Gallagher, Deborah S Craig; Richard Kind; Joey Slotnick, Cady Huffman.
Julie White; Swoosie Kurtz, Scott Ellis; Douglas Carter Beane; Tom Everett Scott, Ari Graynor; Johnny Galecki, Jane Krakowski; Dana Ivey; Tom Kirdahy, Terrence McNally; BD Wong; Dan Gallagher, Deborah S Craig; Richard Kind; Joey Slotnick, Cady Huffman. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

And she's nonstop. She's an Energizer bunny out for bear in The Little Dog Laughed.

Specially, she is a high-pressure, tightly wound Hollywood agent, micro-managing a hot male star whose mojo keeps slipping. Mitchell (Tom Everett Scott) wants, in the best and worst ways, to come out of the closet, tippytoeing out by picking a prestigious gay play to film. Diane (White) will, of course, have none of this, shoving Mitchell back in the closet, triplet-locking it and heterosexualizing the play so no one will be the wiser.

There are additional complications—read: other people, like Mitchell's sex-for-hire boyfriend, Alex (Johnny Galecki), and Alex's girlfriend, Ellen (Ari Graynor), whom Alex has impregnated for free. To find an Ozzie-and-Harriet happy ending in all of this churning emotional morass would challenge most mortals, but not Diane. An Olympic control freak, she goes about creating her illusion with the force of a Level 5 hurricane.

Douglas Carter Beane, author of this savage and cynical comedy, has helpfully obliterated the fourth wall at the get-go so Diane can take the audience directly into her confidence and show you the way her racing, overheated, irreverent mind works. The playwright with whom she negotiates the screen rights is such "an inconsequential stain" he is not even a visual presence on the stage. (And, if you want to insert the initials D.C.B. for that playwright, you can—and you might understand the rage fueling the laughter.)

White's Diane is an awesome spectacle in verbal flight, and you can't help but wonder how she got there—and will continue to get there eight times a week. She doesn't need a director as much as somebody from Air Traffic Control to keep her on the runway. "It's definitely a very self-motivated performance, I gotta say," she admitted when she landed later on Planet Hollywood for the after-party. "I always knew she should be fast, do things, move and talk in a way where you would wonder, 'How's she doing that?'

"That would be the fun of it—if you could never get ahead of her. If you, as an audience, never got ahead of her, it would be like watching a trapeze artist so I tried to throw some tricks in there—in a real big way, to where people will go, 'Whoa! No Way! That's not really gonna happen.' That in itself, when you set yourself that goal, it makes the work exciting. It's like, 'Can I pull this off, or am I going to crash and burn?'"

In the madness, a method. "I guess it's because I feel like I'm having a big party. Like, I have Hostess Energy. I want everything to work out so much, and you just step up there."

And did everything? "I think it worked out really well. Sometimes, an opening night crowd can be kinda stiff, y'know, because there's a lot of money people there, y'know, but this was a really super-fun crowd. They were totally hip and in on it. I had a mob backstage. My dressing room is small and in two parts, so it just became a reticulating python of people who kept going in and out and in and out. But it was really fun. And especially my friends — Cady Huffman and Lisa Baines, backstage, just crying, people who root for you and want the best for you and are happy to see you achieve a dream."

As perfect and precise a fit as this role is for White, Beane confessed, "I didn't write it for her. I wrote it for Cynthia Nixon, and she couldn't do it because she was doing Rabbit Hole," so the author retailored the role to White's persona and down-home accent, merely relocating them to the corridors of power. "It's a Southern woman under a lot of pressure, which is fascinating. I watched a lot of Paula Dean on The Food Network. She's a Southern cook, and I was watching because that's the way Julie talks. Sometimes Julie had ideas, and I would write them in. It was a total collaboration, which is what I love."

Galecki made his Off-Broadway debut in January when the play premiered at The Second Stage — and his Broadway debut, now. If you think he was more nude Off than on, he says no. "It's exactly the same," he insisted, adding with a sly smile, "It's just a bigger house."

The main difference is he looks less scruffy, the result of a new 'do. "I had this in mind when we did it Off-Broadway but didn't get around to it. My ex-girlfriend, a graphic designer, helped me design it, along with Jeff Mahshie, who did the costumes, and Kyle LaColla, who's a dresser on the show, so it was an amalgamation of ideas we all had."

He has a new girlfriend for Broadway, Graynor, late of Brooklyn Boy, who found some surprising humor in the character of Ellen. "I love her exterior persona because it's so different from her interior persona," said Graynor. "She's very witty and sharp and very pleasant in her daily life, but she's also lost and brooding and needs so much and looking for so much, and I like that there's that balance. There's a flip side of the coin. and that's what's so important about being an actor. We're all trying to find the size of that."

Also new to the cast, striking some comic sparks that weren't there before, is Scott, playing the bisexual movie star around whom all the hysterical commotion is centered.

"I really do enjoy this character," he admitted. "That's why I took it. It's such a complex role. He has sold his identity. There are two things going on for this character. He's falling in love, and he wants to be a movie star. He really believes the two can't coexist. I wanted to take on that challenge so I was glad they offered it to me. I'd worked with Douglas before [in The Country Club] and I think anytime anybody you've worked with comes back and wants to work with you again — it's the best compliment in this business."

An inordinate amount of all-star Lone Star support came out for White's high-octane arrival on The Great White Way: director-dancer-choreographer Tommy Tune of Wichita Falls, critic Rex Reed of Fort Worth, playwright Terrence McNally of Corpus Christi, actor Keith Nobbs of Houston and The League of American Theatre and Producers' newly minted executive director, Charlotte St. Martin of Big D (my, oh yes).

McNally will spring two plays on us come spring—first Some Men in March Off-Broadway at Second Stage and then Deuce in May on Broadway at the Music Box with Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes. Nobbs is, as we say in Texas, chomping at the bit to get back on stage, biding his time with a New York-based TV series, "The Black Donnellys," about black Irish working-class brothers who become involved in organized crime in the city. The show's creator, Paul Haggis, did the Oscar-winning "Crash." "It's a great thing for New York theatre actors," Nobbs pointed out, "because we have this revolving door where all these great people can come in and go out regularly."

Tune has his own little dog—named Little Shubert, after the luxurious, if sadly underused theatre he inaugurated. "He won't go walking if it rains," lamented the long-stemmed one. "There'll be little puddles when I get home." And there was an even larger puddle 20 blocks uptown on the East Side — the belated NYC arrival of Busker Alley by The Brothers Sherman, Richard M. and Robert B. This musical about street-corner musicians, based on the 1938 British film "St. Martin's Lane," was six weeks away from its Broadway debut in 1995 when Tune broken his foot during a performance in Tampa, and the show never came in — till Nov. 13 when Jim Dale headed a one-night-only benefit for York Theatre.

Except for the rain, Monday was a good night because most shows were dark and this meant White could be judged by a jury of her already-there peers. The Lady of the Lake (Marin Mazzie) sloshed over from Spamalot, with spouse Jason Danieley. Heartbreak House was shuttered for the evening; hence, Swoozie Kurtz. School was out for Butley (Nathan Lane) and his annoyingly overachieving colleague (Dana Ivey). "Julie's with my agency, and I've such admiration for her. I saw this Off-Broadway, and she's terrific."

Positioned at the entrance of the Cort were twin media goddesses, The Post's Cindy Adams and WOR Radio's Joan Hamburg. Pretty and poised, Cindy smiled a lot and spoke to almost no one — until Lisa Kudrow happened by. Then she pounced and talked and talked. I took the high road, figuring I'd catch Kudrow at the after-party and chatted up Hamburg, telling her that her son's movie ("Meet the Fockers" was co-written by John Hamburg and Jim Herzfeld) was identified as "the top-grossing comedy of all time" in a new documentary about, and titled, the F word. "I knew that it was," beamed the proud mother. "John's in town now, doing two movies and a TV show. The kid is very prolific."

Needless to add, Kudrow never showed at the after-party, but Cynthia Nixon dropped by after her show. "One more month of Jean Brodie — then Christmas," she said, refusing to plan beyond that. Other Tony winners: Jane Krakowski, Estelle Parsons, B.D. Wong.

Also attending: Christian Slater (show only), NBC's Caroline Rhea, Richard Kind, Zang Toi (a real runway entrance), Stephen Bogardus ("I'm going to do another season of White Christmas — in St. Paul"), hirsute-as-all-get-out Jason Harner Butler (readying to hit The Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center Nov. 27) and record mogul Clive Davis. Constantine Maroulis, living the dream of an "American Idol" — making good in New York theatre and looking great doing it on the arm of a beautiful blonde Cynthia Kirchner — said he was looking forward to his next theatrical move, a lateral one, from The Wedding Singer (closing New Years Eve at the Al Hirschfeld) to Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (he starts rehearsing the day after Christmas and opens Jan. 9 at the Zipper). "Gordon [Greenberg, the director] and I did a show together a long time ago, one of my first professional breaks — Jesus Christ Superstar at the Helen Hayes up at Nyack — so it's come full circle to be with him again with such a great piece," he said.

The second most unexpected first-nighter was Ted Allen, the food and wine expert on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." It seems: "I had the extraordinarily good privilege of meeting Julie on the judge's panel at 'Iron Chef America.' Not only does she have great taste as an artist, she has great taste in cuisine — and she was kind enough to invite me."

The first most unexpected first-nighter was Mike Jones, who outed "Pastor Ted" Haggard and, 10 days ago, toppled the evangelist from the pulpit where he preached against gay marriage. Jones was in New York to be interviewed by Fox's Keith Adler.

Designated director Scott Ellis exited early, having a 5:30 call the next day for "30 Rock." (It was Alec Baldwin, pleased with Ellis' direction of him in Entertaining Mr. Sloane, who convinced the series' star and creator, Tina Fey, to helm a few episodes.)

Just under the surface of The Little Dog Laughed, you'll find The Big Doug Laughing. "This is, in essence, what happened to As Bees in Honey Drown," said Beane about his arrival play, which won the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Gassner Playwriting Award. "They wanted to make it straight. Universal promised me it would remain a gay relationship. Then they changed their mind, and I walked off the picture. I complained to Variety and The Advocate, and I was called by a lawyer and told that, if I didn't shut up, I would be sued. The picture is dead. And they did not pay the actual amount."

The Little Dog Laughed is Beane's last laugh on Hollywood, and it couldn't be sweeter.

The company of <i>The Little Dog Laughed</i> takes its opening night bows.
The company of The Little Dog Laughed takes its opening night bows. Photo by Aubrey Reuben