Valley of the Doll: Producers Now Aim Susann Play Toward Fall Bway Bow

News   Valley of the Doll: Producers Now Aim Susann Play Toward Fall Bway Bow Paper Doll, the Mark Hampton-Barbara J. Zitwer comedy about the life and career of trash novelist Jacqueline Susann, with Marlo Thomas in the title role and F. Murray Abraham as husband-manager Irving Mansfield, will not arrive on Broadway this spring, a spokesman for producer Randall Wreghitt told Playbill On-Line March 8.
F. Murray Abraham and Marlo Thomas in Paper Doll.
F. Murray Abraham and Marlo Thomas in Paper Doll. (Photo by Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons)

Paper Doll, the Mark Hampton-Barbara J. Zitwer comedy about the life and career of trash novelist Jacqueline Susann, with Marlo Thomas in the title role and F. Murray Abraham as husband-manager Irving Mansfield, will not arrive on Broadway this spring, a spokesman for producer Randall Wreghitt told Playbill On-Line March 8.

The comedy began a tryout run in North Carolina Feb. 28 (continuing to March 10) prior to a hoped-for Broadway run. Producer Randall Wreghitt and his partners don't have a suitable Broadway house to move to by the May 1 Tony Award eligibility cut-off and are now aiming at fall. It is hoped the schedules of Thomas and Abraham will allow the play to remain in its current form, a spokesman said. The producers previously announced Broadway's Cort Theatre as their April destination, but stepped back from that venue and said another Broadway house was being eyed for spring.

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The run in North Carolina is a test of some changes in the script and production (a single cast replacement) since the comedy's world premiere by Pittsburgh Public Theater in November 2001.

Leonard Foglia again directs the staging at the Reynolds Theatre at Duke University in Raleigh Durham, NC. The cast includes Thomas and Abraham, with Joanne Genelle in multiple roles and Adrian Rieder as Susann protégé Jésus. (Armando Rodriguez originated the role in Pittsburgh.) A black poodle is part of the company, too. The play was an audience and critical hit in the world premiere at Pittsburgh Public Nov. 8-Dec. 9, 2001. The NC opening night is scheduled for March 2. For ticket information, call the University Box Office at (919) 684-4444 and or visit www.tickets.duke.edu.

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Barbara Zitwer and Mark Hampton's outrageous, crowd-pleasing play, Paper Doll, charting the lives, losses and lavishness of novelist Jacqueline Susann and husband Irving Mansfield — as played by Marlo Thomas and F. Murray Abraham — had planned a late April opening at Broadway's Cort Theatre.

Wreghitt previously said he was reviewing all kinds of producing scenarios for the play, including Off-Broadway. It seemed obvious that the marquee power of Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham and TV star and humanitarian Marlo Thomas would make Paper Doll are sure-thing for a Broadway stand.

Wreghitt is partnering with MARS Theatricals (Amy Danis and Mark Johannes), in association with Montauk Highway and others on the commercial run. A clutch of New York producers made the trip to Pittsburgh to see the production, and more are expected to go south to North Carolina.

"I thought it was a damn funny script, and who doesn't wanna read about Jacqueline Susann?" Wreghitt previously told Playbill On-Line. "It's about fame and the cost of fame and it's very entertaining and smart and funny."

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In Pittsburgh, wildly divided reviews met the punchy play by Zitwer and Hampton, with Variety predicting a boffo commercial future and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette grumbling that the material was "flimsy" and "meanders" through monologues and flashbacks. Audiences reportedly ate up the naughty jokes and references made by Susann and Mansfield, who both promoted Susann's trashy fiction ("Valley of the Dolls") to the best seller lists.

"I think part of why people love the play and are responding to it, is that Mark and I and Leonard Foglia and the cast have been able to bring Jackie and Irving to life...we created a Golem and brought Jackie and Irving back to life." She said Thomas and Abraham were "overtaken by the spirit" of Susann and Mansfield, partners in business and life.

Zitwer has long been fascinated by the late Susann, and commissioned Hampton (Full Gallop) to write a play. Zitwer and Hampton got along so well and were on the same page so much that they decided to collaborate.

"We were instantly attracted to writing together," Zitwer said.

What interests her about Susann?

"There are themes about her life that are universal," Zitwer said. "Themes about being an outsider, mortality, love, marriage, fame, ambition, and the craving for fame and what drives famous people. These were interesting ideas about life that Mark and I felt we could explore through the character of Jackie and Irving."

The play includes direct-address and monologues, as well as more conventional narrative scenes; the work has been described as somewhat nonlinear.

"We were interested in breaking a lot of conventions..." Zitwer said. She added that two new characters were developed in rehearsals.

Paper Doll opened Nov. 16, 2001, at Pittsburgh Public Theater's O'Reilly Theatre after previews that began Nov. 8.

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The starry leading players help make Paper Doll the third high profile production in three seasons at the resident Pennsylvania company. August Wilson's King Hedley II had its world premiere at PPT and the Broadway musical, By Jeeves, had its resident tryout there in early 2001 .

Emmy Award-winner Thomas ("That Girl," Broadway's Social Security) plays the flamboyant, troubled Susann, who died of cancer in 1974. Susann prefigured the celebrity trash lit authors of today. The recent film, "Isn't She Great" also focused on Susann, with Bette Midler as the sassy, outlandish, rags-to-riches author. Part of the new play is set in Pittsburgh in 1971. F. Murray Abraham won the Academy Award for "Amadeus."

Co-author Hampton memorably co-wrote Full Gallop, the Diana Vreeland solo play, with actress-writer Mary Louise Wilson. With longtime friend Stuart Ross, creator of Forever Plaid, he recently co-authored a musical based on the life of the '30s singing trio, the Boswell Sisters, which recently had its world premiere at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. Co-author Zitwer is the founder and owner of an international literary agency based in New York City, Barbara J. Zitwer Agency. She is also a film and television producer and her feature films include the cult classic, "Vampire's Kiss," starring Nicholas Cage. Zitwer is the author of the "Magic of the Ocean" series published by Warner Books. Paper Doll is her first play.

Designers are Michael McGarty (set), Martin Pakledinaz (costume), Brian Nason (lighting) and Zach Moore (sound).

— By Kenneth Jones