The World, From a Park Bench: Rappaport Revival Opens on Bway July 25

News   The World, From a Park Bench: Rappaport Revival Opens on Bway July 25
Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen in I'm Not Rappaport.
Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen in I'm Not Rappaport. (Photo by Photo by Carol Rosegg)

The Judd Hirsch-Ben Vereen revival of Herb Gardner's Central Park-set I'm Not Rappaport, directed by Daniel Sullivan, opens July 25 at the Booth Theatre, the same house it played when it won the 1986 Tony Award for Best Play.

Previews began there July 12, but this revival has its roots in a co-production in 2001-2002 shared by Coconut Grove Playhouse, Ford's Theatre and Paper Mill Playhouse.

Producers Elliott Martin and Lewis Allen brought the play to Broadway following the not-for-profit engagements.The most recent run of the staging closed March 24 at Paper Mill: The State Theatre of New Jersey in Millburn, NJ. Along with Martin and Allen, the producers include Ronald Shapiro, Bud Yorkin, James Cushing, Roy Miller, Mari Nakachi, Tommy DeMaio and Zandu Productions.

* The producers considered fast-tracking I'm Not Rappaport to Broadway before the end of the 2001-2002 season in early May, but pulled back from the plan.

"This business of rushing to open two days before the cutoff of the Tony Awards is kind of hysterical," Martin previously told Playbill On-Line. "Waiting until summer was a more propitious thing to do."

There is a tradition for a post-Tony Awards opening for Rappaport. It opened Off-Broadway June 5, 1985, and moved to Broadway — the Booth — in November 1985, waiting six months before snagging the Best Play Tony Award in 1986. Judd Hirsch also starred (and won a Tony for his work).

Sullivan and Hirsch reunite as collaborators on the seriocomic play (originally seen in 1984 at Seattle Repertory Theatre) about two seniors who meet in Central Park in 1982 and confront a changing world — embodied by drug dealers, punks, an angry daughter and an ex-boss. Hirsch won the 1986 Tony Award for playing crusty socialist Nat. Vereen, who plays Midge, is known for his Tony Award-winning turn in Pippin, plus his recent work in Fosse on Broadway.

Talking about how Vereen came to be cast, Sullivan said, "I know Herb and I had talked about Ben several times. Herb had seen Ben do it in San Francisco. I had not. It was a separate production. And Herb had good memories of that. So we got together and read the first act. I thought that was a really good actor there.... Ben is very detailed. It's all very psychologically based. You wouldn't know at all that there is a song-and-dance man there. He's completely submerged into the character."

Also re-creating their 1985 work are designers Tony Walton (set) and Tony winner for Rappaport Pat Collins (lighting).

Director Sullivan won the Best Director Tony Award in 2001 for Broadway's Proof.. The Rappaport cast includes Anthony Arkin (Danforth), Mimi Lieber (Clara), Steven Boyer (Gilley), Jeb Brown (Cowboy) and Tanya Clarke (Laurie), with David S. Howard, Adam Wade, Nurit Loppel, Michael Pemberton and Robert McClure standing by.

Sound designers are Duncan Robert Edwards and David F. Shapiro. Theresa Snider-Stein is costume designer.

Cleavon Little was Hirsch's original co-star; Little died in 1992. Water Matthau and Ossie Davis starred in the 1996 film version, directed by Gardner.

The Booth Theatre is at 222 W. 45th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.

— By Kenneth Jones and Robert Simonson