As Ethan McSweeny's revival of Gore Vidal's 1960 satire, The Best Man, reaps its end-of-season rewards (including an Outer Critics Circle Best Revival win and a shot at a Best Revival Tony Award), the show's producers are gearing up for a national tour next year. Producer Jeffrey Richards told Playbill On-Line May 25, "Discussions are afoot with Gore, who's given us the green light for a national tour to start in September 2002."
Both Richards and Gore, reached at the May 16 Tony Nominees' brunch, noted that 2002 would be a good year for the tour, since it will coincide with the interim elections in the Senate and House and, says Richards, "it's when the Presidential campaign will gear up for its Democratic candidates." Vidal noted that The Best Man's Broadway run was helped by the real-life election turmoil of Gore vs. Bush, though the subsequent "Florida recount did not help us, nor was it great for our political system."
Charles Durning, Chris Noth, Elizabeth Ashley and Michael Learned, all featured in the Broadway Best Man, "have all expressed interest in doing the tour, if their schedules allow," Richards told PBOL, adding that the mini-tour would be just "five or six major cities."
Vidal's welcome back to Broadway has definitely put him back on the stage-writing track. He's revising his 1957 satire Visitor to a Small Planet, which is eyeing Broadway for Fall 2002. John Tillinger directed a reading in early March, which featured Alan Cumming, Christine Baranski, Philip Bosco, Kristin Chenoweth, Cumming, Tony Randall, Lily Tomlin, Josh Alexander, Raul Aranas, Steven Michael Harper, Shawn Elliott and Wesley Ramsey.
Also on the drawing board is a new play called Burr, inspired by, but not directly adapted from, Vidal's famous play of the same name. *
As for The Best Man, when a revival of that show started Broadway previews Sept. 5, 2000, who knew the year's presidential elections would be even uglier, stranger and more outlandish than the fictional political warring in the show? Who knew that Vidal's 1960 drama of a humane but slightly neurotic Senator running against a fiery, muckraking Secretary for the party's nomination - complete with mud-slinging, last-minute leaks to the media, and a deadlocked voting block - would almost pale in comparison to Dubya versus Deadwood, TV news' over-eager predictions and a month of insane legal wrangling? Life not only imitated art, it mutated and mutilated it.
The Best Man ended its limited-run revival Dec. 31, after 15 previews and 121 regular performances. The play got mixed-to-positive reviews when the $1.9 million production opened Sept. 17 at the Virginia Theatre. Because the final week turned out to be one of the strongest grossing weeks of the show's run, management sources close to the production said that the entire investment would be returned.
The Best Man centers on Secretary Russell, a flawed but empathetic candidate hoping to get the party's nomination on the first ballot. Standing in his way is ruthless Senator Cantwell, a born politician — and muckraker. When Cantwell discovers that his opponent once had a nervous breakdown, he threatens to distribute copies of Russell's psychiatric reports to all the delegates. Russell's own team then come up with a little nasty background on Cantwell, but will their man stoop to that level of mudslinging? And will ex-President Hockstader endorse the better man, or the one more likely to win (and possibly more equipped to lead)?
Seventeen actors populated the cast of Best Man, with six leads: Charles Durning, Spalding Gray, Chris Noth, Elizabeth Ashley, Christine Ebersole and Michael Learned. Two veteran Broadway character actors, Jonathan Hadary and Mark Blum, are also in the cast, as are Ed Dixon, Jordan Lage, Michael Rudko, Joe Costa, Joseph Culliton, Kate Hampton, Patricia Hodges, Lee Mark Nelson and C. J. Wilson.
The original production of The Best Man opened at the Morosco Theatre March 31, 1960. Cast-members included Melvyn Douglas (who won a Best Actor Tony for playing Russell), Lee Tracy, Frank Lovejoy and Dana. Joseph Anthony directed the three-act drama, set at a 1960 Presidential Convention in Philadelphia.
[Note: Though the original title of the play was The Best Man, producers titled this revival Gore Vidal's The Best Man to distinguish it in viewers' minds from the Taye Diggs film. Also, in another bit of coincidental good timing, Vidal's "The Golden Age," the final book in his series of historical novels, was released by Doubleday on Sept. 15, 2000.]
- By David Lefkowitz