Valerie Harper's most memorable appearance in Manhattan may be her jaunt through the city streets in a wedding dress in the famous episode of the TV sitcom, "Rhoda." Beginning July 31 she returns to the New York streets — well, Broadway — to take the title role in the hit comedy, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife.
Marjorie Taub, the title character of the Charles Busch play at the Barrymore Theatre is so depressed about her Upper West Side life, she actually stoops. Harper is now the lady with the rounded shoulders and fine whine, replacing Linda Lavin, who created the role at Off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club and then in the current commercial run. Lavin was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award for her work. Her final performance in the play was July 29.
Harper was a stage actress before breaking into TV and memorably playing Rhoda Morgenstern in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and her own spinoff, "Rhoda." In 1998, she played author Pearl S. Buck in All Under Heaven, Off-Broadway. The original cast, including Tony Roberts as the husband-allergist, Michele Lee as Marjorie's childhood pal, Anil Kumar as the doorman and Shirl Bernheim as Marjorie's prickly mother, continues. Director Lynne Meadow called Harper "one of America's greatest comedic actresses."
The Tale at the Barrymore Theatre was nominated for a Best Play Tony, and Michele Lee was nommed for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Lee plays a childhood friend (named Lee), who shakes up Marjorie and her complacent husband in Busch's comedy, about searching for a sense of purpose and happiness after age 50. The whine began flowing freely on Broadway beginning Oct. 11, 2000, when Lavin began previews as a deeply discontented Upper West Side married lady, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The urban comedy — a sellout hit at Off-Broadway's MTC in the spring — officially opened on Broadway Nov. 2.
Lynne Meadow is MTC's artistic director.
For the Broadway Allergist's Wife, MTC partners with producers Carol Shorenstein Hays, Daryl Roth, Stuart Thompson and Douglas S. Cramer. The cost to mount the show was $1.6 million, and the money has been recouped.
Tale was originally told Feb. 8-April 16, 2000 (it opened Feb. 29) at MTC's Stage II. Word of mouth, plus solid reviews, fueled a sellout.
Playwright Busch is the popular drag performer and scribe whose work includes Psycho Beach Party, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, The Green Heart and Die! Mommy! Die!
Lee was the strong-willed Karen on TV's "Knots Landing," appeared in the film, "How to Succeed Without Really Trying," and sang the songs of Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields in Broadway's Seesaw (earning a Tony Award nomination).
Roberts appeared in Play It Again Sam, Sugar and Victor/Victoria on Broadway, and Woody Allen's film, "Annie Hall," among other pictures.
Bernheim appeared in the world premiere of Old Lady's Guide to Survival at The Humana Festival of New American Plays (and later Off-Broadway), and as Miss Lynch in Grease on Broadway and on tour. She is veteran of many American regional theaters.
Kumar made his Broadway debut in The Public Theater's Macbeth and was Dilip in the American premiere of Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink.
Broadway tickets are $30-$70. The Barrymore Theatre is at 243 W. 47th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway. Call (212) 239-6200 for information.