PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 8-14: The Ziegfeld Era Ends

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 8-14: The Ziegfeld Era Ends
 
The name Doris Eaton Travis didn't mean much to the nation at large, when word went out on May 11 that she had died at the age of 106. But it meant something special to the New York theatre community — not just the passing of a former Broadway performer but the passing of a cherished chapter in Broadway history as well.
Sutton Foster and Doris Eaton Travis
Sutton Foster and Doris Eaton Travis Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Doris Eaton Travis was widely thought to be among "the last of the Ziegfeld Girls," if not the last. She was certainly the most famous and beloved former Ziegfeld Girl, as were known the bejeweled ensemble of women who graced the stage of the New Amsterdam Theatre in producer Flo Ziegfeld's legendary revues in the first quarter of the 20th century. Travis appeared — and danced! — at 12 of 13 annual Easter Bonnet Competition performances for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. As such, she was a very visible living connection to the glorious, splashy history of early Broadway, an important part of an artistic community that is very rooted to its past. To think that she taught current Broadway darling Sutton Foster how to dance The Black Bottom is to have your mind warp. As I stated in 2004 when I interviewed her, Travis was the only person among the hundreds of stage artists I have interviewed to whom I could pose the question, "What was Flo Ziegfeld really like?"

The Ziegfeld Follies that Travis appeared in were 80 years ago — the 1918 and 1920 editions. She was 15 when she joined the show. The theatre was the family business for "The Eatons of Broadway." Four of her seven siblings would eventually go onto the stage, including sisters Mary and Pearl, who were also Ziegfeld Girls. Doris was the least emotionally attached to the stage, and, perhaps consequently, survived the longest by a mile. (Mary died in 1948, Pearl in 1958.) After her theatre prospects bottomed out in the Depression, she found church, a career running Arthur Murray dance school, a ranch, a university degree and a husband. She even published a memoir. (You can accomplish a lot in 106 years.) Eventually, the theatre found her again, and she would up back on the stage of the New Amsterdam, which was handily restored to its former glory in the late '90s by Disney. Very likely, only Doris could have told the architects if they got the revamp right.

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There was a bit of weirdness over at the home of Tony this week. Tony Awards leadership withdrew the 2010 nomination of Ragtime costume designer Santo Loquasto, who was previously nominated for the same show in the same category in 1998. Tony Awards Productions released the following statement on May 13: "Yesterday, it was affirmed to Tony Award Productions that Santo Loquasto's designs for the revival of Ragtime are predominantly those from the original 1998 production, and therefore do not meet the Tony rule which states, work that 'substantially duplicate(s)' work from a prior production is ineligible. We learned this too late to remove the costumes from consideration by the nominators, but feel that we cannot allow the designs to remain in contention this year, and we must regretfully withdraw them from consideration as a nominee in the Best Costume Design of a Musical category."

There will be no replacement made for the nomination, and voters will vote for one of the three remaining nominees. Loquasto took it in stride. He ought to. He's been nominated 17 times, and won thrice. Hell, he's still in the running this year, nominated for the scenic design of Fences!

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Eddie Izzard

The critics didn't swoon over David Mamet's Race when it opened on Broadway last season. But the show's been doing just fine without them, thank you very much. A little while back, it recouped its investment. Now, the drama is bringing in its second cast. Eddie Izzard, last seen on Broadway in the revival of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, will succeed James Spader in the role of attorney Jack Lawson. Spader will depart the production June 20. Izzard will join Dennis Haysbert and Afton C. Williamson, who replaces original Broadway cast members David Alan Grier and Kerry Washington, respectively, on June 15. Both Grier and Washington will play their final performances June 13, the date of the 2010 Tony Awards. Grier received a Best Actor nomination for his performance. Richard Thomas will be the only original cast member to remain with the production. Race continues through Aug. 21.

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David Leveaux will direct the Kander and Ebb musical Zorba, which will return to Broadway in September 2011, it was revealed.

Of course, you don't revive Zorba without a box-office-bait Zorba. And the production's got one: Antonio Banderas, who proved his allure in Nine, which was also directed by Leveaux.

Behind the project are Chicago producers Barry and Fran Weissler, who are suddenly very busy after a five-year quiet period that followed their 2005 revival of Sweet Charity. This spring on Broadway they brought in La Cage aux Folles (nice work), Enron (sorry) and Come Fly With Me (good luck). They're also looking to bring the more recent Kander and Ebb musical The Scottboro Boys to Broadway this fall.

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Christina Ricci
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The producers of Donald Margulies' Tony Award-nominated drama Time Stands Still, which is scheduled to resume performances on Broadway Sept. 23, have found a new 1990s girl film star to replace the 1990s girl film star they're losing. Christina Ricci will make her Broadway debut this fall, succeeding original cast member Alicia Silverstone in the role of Mandy. Previous commitments preclude Silverstone from reprising her performance in the fall. ***

Manhattan Theatre Club's 2010-11 season will feature three world-premiere productions, including works by Beau Willimon and Pulitzer Prize winners David Lindsay-Abaire and Alfred Uhry.

In addition to the previously announced American premiere of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters MTC will produce Lindsay-Abaire's new play, Good People on Broadway. At MTC's Off-Broadway home at New York City Center Stage I will be the new play by Uhry, Carl's Sister, based on the book "Apples and Oranges" by Marie Brenner, plus Willimon's Spirit Control, directed by Doug Hughes.

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Finally, the Roundabout Theatre Company has coaxed two theatre greats back to the New York stage for the 2010-11 season. Cherry Jones will star in George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession on Broadway, and Olympia Dukakis will star in an Off-Broadway run of Tennessee Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore.

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