The wait is over and the Waite is on.
Back in mid-January, Ralph Waite was announced to star in a mounting of Arthur Miller's Pulitzer-winning Death of a Salesman at NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse, Feb. 24-April 5.
Waite (of "Waltons" fame) replaces previously announced Hal Holbrook (of Mark Twain Tonight renown) due to Holbrook's scheduling conflicts. Also, David Wheeler replaces previously announced director Gerald Freedman. Both Holbrook and Wheeler came from an October Alley Theatre (TX) staging of the drama.
The NY Times reported (Feb. 13) that Waite himself tried to beg off the project because he's announced his candidacy for the Palm Springs congressional seat held by the late Sonny Bono. Because of contractual obligations and the importance of the role in Salesman, Waite is staying on in Salesman, though he'll use his off days to campaign in California. "I'm just going to have to discipline myself and keep my mind on what's in front of me," Waite told the Times.
Designing Salesman are Dennis Parichy (replacing Jeff Davis on lighting), Gregg Barnes (costumes) and Michael Anania (set). Co-starring as Linda is Lisa Richards, with the ensemble featuring Rob Sedgwick (yes, Kyra's brother) as Biff, Sean Runnette as Happy, Michael Balconoff as Ben, and John Edwin Payne, Carl N. Wallnau, Dan Welch, Alexandra, Loria, Stacey Leigh Ivey, Joseph Hindy, Emily Cline, Michael Balconoff, Ford Austin and Kippy Goldfarb
Paper Mill artistic director Robert Johanson directs the legendary Sondheim musical about veteran vaudevillians remembering their youth. Jerry Mitchell choreographs ("Broadway Bares" and TV's Rosie O'Donnell Show). Songs include "Losing My Mind" and "Waiting For The Girls Upstairs."
Roberts, last on Broadway in Victor/Victoria, has a long list of NY credits, including Doubles and Jerome Robbins' Broadway, not to mention nearly every film comedy Woody Allen made in the 1970s. Phyllis Newman (Subways Are For Sleeping) will play Stella. Kaye Ballard will play Hattie. Ballard began her Broadway career in The Golden Apple and continued it with Funny Girl, Wonderful Town and She Stoops To Conquer.
Also set for the cast are Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line) as Sally, Dee Hoty (The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public) as Phyllis, Donald Saddler, Laurence Guittard (as Benjamin), Scott Wise, Michael Gruber, Lilliane Montevecchi (Nine) as Solange, and Eddie Bracken. (Among those considered for roles but not participating are John Cullum and Faith Prince.) Two of the young roles are still being cast, as are several dancers. Spokesperson Jim Byk (of the Richard Kornberg office) said Carlotta -- the "Yvonne DeCarlo role" -- has yet to be cast but will be a big name actress.
Rehearsals begin in mid-March for a first preview April 15 and a run through May 31. For NJ press, the show opens April 24, but becau Pe crush of Broadway openings that week, they're holding New York critics for a different opening date, April 30.
Designing Follies are Michael Anania (set), Gregg Barnes (costumes) and Mark Stanley (lighting). Jim Coleman and Tom Helm serve as musical directors.
Also on tap for Paper Mill is THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES -- The 1991 Tony winner for best musical, the shows tells a fanciful version of the life story of Rogers, one of America's most popular entertainer/comedians. Peter Stone wrote the book, Betty Comden & Adolph Green the lyrics, Cy Coleman the score. (June 10-July 26).
Rehearsals begin in May for Will Rogers Follies. After he finishes with the State Fair national tour, John Davidson will play the lead, with Ann Crumb (Anna Karenina, Aspects of Love) playing Betty Blake. The Madcap Mutts, who appeared on Broadway in the show, will repeat their canine cavorting.
Robert Johanson is artistic director of the Paper Mill Playhouse, the official state theatre of New Jersey. Classic musicals previously revived at the Millburn theatre include South Pacific, Show Boat and Gigi; newer works include Chess, Jane Eyre and Comfortable Shoes.
For tickets and information on Paper Mill Playhouse shows, call (973) 379-3636.
-- By David Lefkowitz