Scandals and Secrets and Divas, Oh My! A Theatregoer's Guide to It's Only a Play

News   Scandals and Secrets and Divas, Oh My! A Theatregoer's Guide to It's Only a Play Playbill.com offers a guide to the inside theatre jokes in Terrence McNally's It's Only a Play, currently playing a Broadway run at the Schoenfeld Theatre.
Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane
Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane Photo by Joan Marcus

Theatregoers attending the star-studded Broadway production of Terrence McNally's It's Only a Play may find their heads spinning due to the production's seemingly nonstop name dropping. The lengthy love letter to Broadway, featuring Matthew Broderick as a playwright, Nathan Lane as his successful actor friend and Megan Mullally as their optimistic producer, includes rapid-fire mention of countless stars of the entertainment industry. To help audience members keep up with McNally's jokes, Playbill.com put together a guide of theatrical references.

Click through to read Playbill.com's guide to It's Only a Play Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Eve Arden in <i>Moose Murders</i>
Eve Arden in Moose Murders Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Moose Murders

A legendary flop, Arthur Bicknell's play opened Feb. 22, 1983, following 13 previews. The production, which first featured Eve Arden before Holland Taylor filled in following Arden's abrupt departure, opened and closed on Broadway the same night. New York Times critic Frank Rich began his review of the production by saying, "From now on, there will always be two groups of theatregoers in this world: those who have seen Moose Murders, and those who have not... A visit to Moose Murders is what will separate the connoisseurs of Broadway disaster from mere dilettantes for many moons to come."

Bicknell's book, "Moose Murdered: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Broadway Bomb" details the production. A revival, featuring a revised script, was presented by Beautiful Soup Theater Company in January 2013. Read Playbill.com's interview with Bicknell here. See the vintage Playbill for the Broadway opening here.

Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in "All About Eve"
Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in "All About Eve"

Eve Harrington

The titular character in the classic film "All About Eve" tells the story of the ambitious young woman who, by waiting at the stage door of a Broadway theatre, insinuates herself into leading lady Mago Channing's life. She appears to be a sincere young fan at first but ultimately works to replace her idol in both her career and her personal relationships. The film featured Bette Davis as Margo Channing and Anne Baxter as Eve and received a record 14 Academy Award nominations. It was also the inspiration for the Lauren Bacall musical Applause!

Betty Buckley

Known to many fans for her performance as Grizabella in Cats, including her now legendary performance of the 11 o'clock number "Memory," Betty Buckley is a Tony Award winner who counts 1776, Pippin, Song and Dance, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Carrie, Sunset Boulevard and Triumph of Love among her Broadway credits. Along with her stage work, she has recorded more than a dozen albums. See Betty Buckley's career in photos here, and read Playbill.com's interview with Buckley about her new CD, "Ghostlight," here.

Harvey Fierstein
Harvey Fierstein

Harvey Fierstein

A four-time Tony Award winner, writer and actor, Harvey Fierstein's playwriting credits include Kinky Boots, Newsies, Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles and A Catered Affair. Known for his deep, raspy voice, he has appeared in the Broadway productions of Hairspray, Fiddler On The Roof, La Cage aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy and in the films "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Independence Day" and the TV shows "Smash," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Good Wife," "Cheers," "The Simpsons" and "Nurse Jackie." Read Playbill.com's interview with Fierstein about his latest play, Casa Valentina, here.

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are the writing team behind the Broadway musicals Catch Me If You Can and Hairspray, as well as many of the witty Marilyn Monroe tunes on the NBC TV show "Smash." Their latest work, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is playing the West End and a future Broadway transfer is being discussed. See video highlights of the production here. They were recently honored by the New York Pops. See photos from the gala evening here, and read Playbill.com's Top 10 Songs by Shaiman and Wittman here.

James Franco
James Franco Photo by Richard Phibbs

James Franco

James Franco made his Broadway debut in 2014, starring in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The ubiquitous actor, director, writer and teacher also made a name for himself offstage responding to New York Times critic Ben Brantley's review of the production on social media, calling Brantley a "little bitch" and suggesting that he work for Gawker. He was also reported as having attempted to arrange a rendezvous with a young fan via Instagram. Read about Franco's comments to Brantley here. Read Playbill.com's interview with Franco about starring in Of Mice and Men on Broadway here.

Shia LaBeouf/Alec Baldwin

Shia LaBeouf and Alec Baldwin were former co-stars in Lyle Kessler's three-hander Orphans before LaBeouf publicly exited the production due to creative differences with Baldwin. The two have consistently made headlines for their juvenile behavior, including LaBeouf's arrest at Cabaret, Baldwin's argument with a Manhattan police officer (who then arrested him) and their fued during rehearsals for Orphans. LaBeouf never went on to make his Broadway debut, but has attended various theatrical events, including the first preview of Orphans and a performance of the Cabaret revival. Baldwin announced earlier this year that he has left public life behind.

Tommy Tune
Tommy Tune Photo by Michael Wilhoite

Tommy Tune

Tommy Tune is an American actor, dancer, singer, theatre director, producer and choreographer whose Broadway credits are numerous and date back to 1965. He is a Tony Award winner for his performances in Seesaw and My One and Only as well as for his choreography of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, My One and Only, Grand Hotel and The Will Rogers Follies and for his direction of Nine, Grand Hotel and The Will Rogers Follies. He's noted for his height and tap dancing skills, and he will join Carol Channing Nov. 8 for a conversation about her life and career.

Kaufman & Hart

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart collaborated on titles such as Once in a Lifetime, The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can't Take It With You, for which they received the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. (That comedy is currently back on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, starring James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne, among others.) Separately, Kaufman is a Tony-winning director for Guys and Dolls and wrote the book for the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Of Thee I Sing, which he also staged. Hart won a Tony for the direction of My Fair Lady. In the first-act musical number "NYC" from Annie, the duo is mentioned alongside George and Ira Gershwin: "Go ask the Gershwins or Kaufman and Hart/The place they love the best/Though California pays big for their art/Their fan mail comes addressed to NYC…"

Ben Brantley
Ben Brantley Photo by Brent Murray

Ben Brantley

Ben Brantley has been the chief theatre critic of The New York Times since September 1996 and has been with the esteemed publication since August 1993. His New York Times reviews of Broadway shows are amongst the most highly regarded critiques in the industry (making him a central point of It's Only a Play, where the characters are waiting with bated breath for the play's review to hit the interwebs). He is also the editor of "The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century," which was published by St. Martin's Press in 2001. He received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 1996-1997. Read Playbill.com's recent Booking It! column with Brantley, who talks about criticism, writing and memorable moments on stage.

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe is best known as the wizard behind the wand in the famed "Harry Potter" film franchise. He starred in the title role alongside actor Rupert Grint, who made his Broadway debut in It's Only a Play. Radcliffe was of the first of the "Harry Potter" actors to branch out post-"Potter" — he has been seen on Broadway in critically-acclaimed turns in Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and, most recently, The Cripple of Inishmaan. He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for each performance, although he never received a Tony nomination for any.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

Ahrens & Flaherty

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are the Tony Award-winning songwriting duo behind Ragtime. They were Tony-nominated for the book and score of Once on This Island, and their other projects include My Favorite Year, Matters of the Heart, Seussical, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life and, most recently, Rocky.

Chita Rivera & Rita Moreno

The careers of award-winning actresses Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno have long been intertwined. Rivera created the character of Anita in the original Broadway production of West Side Story, a role that Moreno would portray on screen to Academy Award-winning acclaim. The two veterans of stage and screen also share a long history with the work of It's Only a Play playwright Terrence McNally. Moreno created the role of Googie Gomez in McNally's The Ritz, nabbing a Tony Award along the way and later repeated her performance in the film adaptation of the comedy. Both of Rivera's Tony Award-winning Broadway outings have been in musicals with books by McNally: The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. A showbiz joke (referenced in It's Only a Play) continues that the actresses share a rivalry, however, the two pioneering actresses are friends and appeared together at the Kennedy Center in 2013. Forbidden Broadway skewered the actresses' mythical feud, whose names are occasionally confused, in the song "Chita-Rita."

Here's a look at the spoof:

Mike Nichols
Mike Nichols Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Mike Nichols

Veteran director Mike Nichols, who has raked in eight Tony Awards for his work, started out on Broadway as a performer in An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which premiered in 1960, running for 306 performances. Nichols has won Tony Awards for his direction of Death of a Salesman, Spamalot, The Real Thing, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Plaza Suite, Luv, The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park. He made his cinematic directorial debut, directing Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and later won the the Academy Award for his direction of "The Graduate." He's made stars out of the actors he's cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jonathan Pryce, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilda Radner and It's Only a Play leading actress Stockard Channing. He directed the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final Broadway outing, Death of a Salesman in 2012. He spoke with Playbill.com about the experience.

Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage & BAM

Several prominent theatres are mentioned in the production that's all about plays, playwrights and actors. Among the New York theatres to be called out include Off-Broadway's Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons and Second Stage, as well as The Brooklyn Academy of Music, where It's Only a Play star Nathan Lane will appear in 2015 in Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. London's Donmar Warehouse, which nurtures new work and revivals, also received a nod.

Tovah Feldshuh
Tovah Feldshuh

Love! Valour! Compassion!

Terrence McNally slyly name-checks one of his own plays during It's Only a Play, as a character lists a series of descriptives about the work of another playwright. The three words "love, valor, compassion" uttered in succession did not go unnoticed by industry members in the audience. McNally's Tony Award-winning 1995 play Love! Valour! Compassion!, about a group of gay men who hash out love, life and friendship throughout a summer in upstate New York, featured Nathan Lane among its ensemble cast.

Tovah Feldshuh

A fur coat signifies the arrival of unseen party guest Tovah Feldshuh, the four-time Tony Award nominee, who can be frequently spotted on the red carpet of Broadway opening nights. Feldshuh most recently appeared in the Broadway revival of Pippin. Her work also includes Golda's Balcony, Saravà, Lend Me a Tenor and Yentl. Her screen appearances include "Kissing Jessica Stein" and the miniseries "Holocaust."

Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga

Bob Wankel

It's a busy season for the Shubert Organization's Robert E. Wankel, known as Bob Wankel, to his colleagues. The president and CEO of the theatrical organization that oversees 17 Broadway houses, as well as Off-Broadway's Little Shubert and Philadelphia's Forrest Theatre, is name-checked in both Hedwig and the Angry Inch and It's Only a Play.

Lady Gaga

Though she is never seen, it is clear that the opening night party central to It's Only a Play is being attended by none other than international pop sensation Lady Gaga, whose bubble coat is among the coats that have been tossed across the bed. The coat, which references a dress Gaga wore during her 2009 Fame Ball tour, was created by the Haus of Gaga. Fashion magazines took note of the dress which was rather similar to a design created by Hussein Chalayan in 2007.

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