Raising the Curtain on 1998's West End Stars

Raising the Curtain on 1998's West End Stars LONDON TICKET -- July 1998

LONDON TICKET -- July 1998

SUMMER STARS: "The trouble is, of course," said Noel Coward famously when this was suggested as a title for a July 1960 show-biz gala, "that some of them are not." Nevertheless, we do this summer seem to have more than our usual crop of stellar celebrities in and around the West End, not necessarily all of them actors.

David Mamet is here to oversee his The Old Neighborhood with Zoe Wanamaker starring for the award-winning playwright Patrick Marber; Michael Frayn and Michael Blakemore, the writer-director team of Noises Off and much else, are back at the National working on Copenhagen, which, says Frayn characteristically, "is about the Uncertainty Principle or at least I'm fairly certain it is."

Then again there's Lloyd Webber, drastically reworking his Whistle Down the Wind for a London premiere in early July after a shaky Washington, D.C. start a couple of seasons back; and again at the National, Fiona Shaw is the latest in a long line of actresses putting old heads on young bodies in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Alec McCowen, happily recovered from the illness that took him out of Peter Pan at Christmas, is up at the Almeida with a new Doctor's Dilemma, while Kevin Spacey completes that theatre's triumphant Old Vic transfer of The Iceman Cometh.

Elsewhere again, there's Fenella Fielding in yet another play about the late Duchess of Windsor, by my reckoning the fourth in less than a year; and while mystery still surrounds the fate of Yasmina (Art) Reza's The Unexpected Man, which despite glowing reviews and a cast of Eileen Atkins and Sir Michael Gambon ran only a dozen or so pre-sold-out performances at the Barbican, we do know that Hampstead has Timberlake Wertenbaker's new study of Darwin and that Susan Stroman will be choreographing the new Trevor Nunn Oklahoma! at the National with a cast including Maureen Lipman as Aunt Ellie.

Looking still further ahead, Diana Rigg will be an autumn Phedra at the Almeida, and Judi Dench takes on the old Joan Plowright role as Filumena for Peter Hall's repertory season at the Piccadilly. There's also a new Keith Waterhouse comedy for Penelope Keith and murmurs of Emma Thompson in As You Like It for the Donmar Warehouse.

TONY TUNES: While Cabaret (which originated at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden) has triumphed on Broadway with four Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actress (Natasha Richardson), Best Actor (Alan Cumming) and Best Featured Actor (Ron Rifkin) in a Musical, there is already talk of its returning to a larger London theatre in a summer even more alive than usual with the sound of musicals old and new. Still no real news of West End dates for Ragtime or The Life or even Titanic, but with Rent and Chicago and Saturday Night Fever already selling out, the stages are set for Doctor Dolittle (pop star Phillip Schofield in the old Rex Harrison movie role) and Sweet Charity (Bonnie Langford in the old Cy Coleman classic), plus fringe-theatre revivals of Pippin, Merrily We Roll Along and The Rink. Also from New York, the word is that Paul Scofield may take on the Eli Wallach role in Visiting Mr. Green . . . How I Learned to Drive opens at the Warehouse in late June . . . Steppenwolf brings its acclaimed The Man Who Came To Dinner into the Barbican early July . . . Neil Marcus directs the Off-Broadway hit No Way To Treat a Lady . . . Mary Louise Wilson's Diana Vreeland solo, Full Gallop, comes to Hampstead in August . . . and early fall we should get the new Edward Albee Play About The Baby and the Moises Kaufman Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde as well as As Bees in Honey Drown.

-- By Sheridan Morley