It's no secret that Rich Little is a funny guy who can do impressions, but one of his biggest challenges will be to incorporate that stand-up talent into a full evening of theatre. He'll get that chance soon, when he stars in The Presidents, a new comedy premiering in Michigan in August, to be followed by a major staging in upstate New York in September.
Written by Ron Nessen, who was Gerald Ford's press secretary, and Loren Paul Caplin, The Presidents has its world-premiere tryout at the Cherry County Playhouse in Michigan, Aug. 8-10. That production, somewhat expanded, will come to the Helen Hayes Center for the Performing Arts Sept. 23-Oct. 8. Cherry County artistic director Bill Castellino is directing both mountings. Little has apparently expressed serious interest in taking the play to Broadway.
In Presidents, Little will play eight U.S. chiefs, starting with John F. Kennedy up through Bill Clinton. Unlike the one-man stand-ups Little's been doing on TV and in Vegas for years, Little will be accompanied by an actress playing all the first ladies, plus second bananas playing such politicos as Henry Kissinger, James Carville and Billy Carter. Structured as a play, the piece is narrated by a man who lived through this whole period, from Vietnam to the current era. "It's an overview of modern U.S. history," a Hayes spokesperson told Playbill On-Line. "And you can totally see how Little will be magnificent in it."
The rest of the 2000-01 mainstage season at the Hayes Center will include: Nov. 4-19: The Odd Couple (the female version).
Dec. 2-23: Annie, the musical.
March 17-April 1, 2001: a world premiere, probably of a musical.
April 21-May 6, 2001: Alfred Uhry's Tony-winning drama, The Last Night of Ballyhoo.
June 2-17, 2001: A Chorus Line.
For tickets and subscription information ($149-$208) to shows at the Hayes Center, 117 Main Street, Nyack, NY, call (845) 358-6333.
The between-season time at Nyack, NY's Helen Hayes Center isn't completely quiet. A couple of theatre-related events -- including a visit by Forbidden Broadway and a chat with Elaine Stritch -- are likely whetting playgoers' appetites for the season ahead.
Arriving July 29 is comedienne and impressionist Marilyn Michaels, last on Broadway in The Catskills on Broadway. Her Nyack show, "The Great Ladies of Broadway," will feature impersonations of such stars as Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand.
Another music-theatre must-see comes to the Hayes Aug. 5. Elaine Stritch, star of A Delicate Balance and Show Boat, will be interviewed by Larry Grossman, composer of such shows as A Doll's Life and Grind. Billed as a "Musical Conversation," the evening will likely offer musical moments from such shows as Pal Joey and Company.
Closing the Hudson series will be Forbidden Broadway, an Off Broadway institution that has been mocking Broadway musicals for 17 years. Created by Gerard Alessandrini, the musical spoofing occurs Aug. 11-13. The mini-season began, July 20, with Neil Berg's "Broadway in Concert."
In other Hayes Center news, stage actress Hayes, whose career spanned roughly eight decades, would have been 100 years old this coming October 22. To celebrate her career and spirit, the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center is launching a celebrity-filled gala on that night, with her son, James MacArthur, serving as honorary host.
Already scheduled to pay homage are Loni Ackerman, Barry Bostwick, Ellen Burstyn (Sacrilege), Arlene Dahl, Charles Durning (The Gin Game), Tovah Feldshuh, Julie Harris (The Gin Game), William Hurt (Hurlyburly), Donna Murphy (The King and I), Bernadette Peters (Song and Dance), David Shire, Elaine Stritch (Company) and cast members of the current Broadway revue, Swing!. Further notables are expected to be announced shortly, and there's even an unconfirmed rumor that the producers are tempted to do the evening in New York City.
Film and audio clips will be shown at the centennial celebration, which will be followed by a champagne and dessert reception. Details are still being worked out for the evening, but the theatre can be reached at (845) 358-6333. Ticket prices are $100 (show only) and $150 (show and reception).
Hayes made her stage debut at age five and starred in such Broadway hits as To The Ladies, Victoria Regina and Mary of Scotland. In 1958 she starred in Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet at what had been the Fulton Theatre but was newly christened "The Helen Hayes Theatre." That theatre was destroyed in 1982 to make way for the Marriot Marquis Hotel, and a neighboring theatre was re-named the Helen Hayes. The comedy Dirty Blonde now plays at the Broadway Hayes venue.
According to press materials from the Hayes Center, Hayes once said, "I hope some day to have a little theatre in Nyack named after me -- the place where I have been happiest."
-- By David Lefkowitz