Last on Broadway in The Sisters Rosensweig, four-time Emmy winner Michael Learned will play Mrs. Russell, wife to Spalding Gray's character in the upcoming revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, due at the Virginia Theatre Sept. 5, officially opening Sept. 17.
Learned's stage roles include The Ride Down Mt. Morgan at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and, just recently, Ancestral Voices at NJ's George Street Theatre. The actress is still best known, however, for playing Depression-era Ma Walton on the popular '70s television show "The Waltons." Learned's supporting role in Best Man earned its original actress, Leora Dana, a Tony nomination.
[Note: Though the original title of the play was The Best Man, producers are calling this revival "Gore Vidal's The Best Man" to distinguish it in viewers' minds from the recent Taye Diggs film. Also, in a bit of coincidental good timing, Vidal's "The Golden Age," the final book in his series of historical novels, will be released by Doubleday on Sept. 15.]
Durning's many theatre credits include the recent Broadway revivals of The Gin Game and Inherit the Wind, as well as last spring's Glengarry Glen Ross at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. Ashley is well known for her turns in Tennessee Williams plays, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer and The Red Devil Battery Sign. Noth is the former star of "Law & Order" and now star of "Sex & the City." Ebersole, who plays his wife, was recently on view in David Marshall Grant's Off-Broadway play, Current Events, at Manhattan Theatre Club. Ebersole's career has included Broadway turns in Getting Away With Murder, Harrigan-n-Hart, Camelot (Richard Burton), Oklahoma and On the 20th Century. She has appeared in the Encores! musical concert series in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, Lady In the Dark and Allegro.
The last time Gray appeared on a New York stage as part of anything other than one of his well-known and popular monologues, was as the Stage Manager in the Lincoln Center Theater production of Our Town in 1989. In Best Man, Gray is to play presidential candidate William Russell to Durning's President Hockstader.
Ashley is best known for several Broadway turns in the plays of Tennessee Williams, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. She recently appeared at Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre in Sweet Bird of Youth and in Off-Broadway's If Memory Serves.
As for the show's design, back in 1960, fresh from her very first Broadway job -- designing the costumes for Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth -- Theoni V. Aldredge went to her next Broadway assignment: Vidal's The Best Man. She now returns to garb this version, four decades and several Tonys later (including La Cage aux Folles, Annie and 42nd Street). John Arnone (Tommy) is designing the sets, Howell Binkley Parade) the lighting.
The Virginia Theatre booking for Best Man is a bit of a surprise, given the venue's reputation as a musical house. The theatre's last two tenants were, briefly, Michael John LaChiusa's The Wild Party, and Smokey Joe's Cafe, which ran there for five years.
Best Man's director, Ethan McSweeny, staged Never the Sinner Off Broadway and Side Man at MN's Guthrie Theatre.
According to a spokesperson at the Jeffrey Richards press office, The Best Man, a limited engagement, begins previews Sept. 5 and run through Dec. 31. Rehearsals begin July 31.
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.