VICE VERSA: At a recent Playbill luncheon in honor of "Sunset Boulevard," star Betty Buckley hailed the musical's director, Trevor Nunn as the best director she had ever worked with, and co-star Alice Ripley declared that he had put her completely at ease when she auditioned for the show. Ripley also made the amusing observation that when she auditioned for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, she was requested not to sing anything by Stephen Sondheim. On another occasion when she auditioned for a Sondheim musical, she was strongly cautioned not to sing anything by Webber.
BOUNTIFUL GRANTS: The American Theatre Wing recently distributed nearly $100,000 in grants to 33 theatre organizations at a gala Grants and Scholarship Awards Luncheon held at Sardi's. In addition the Wing has established The Isabelle Stevenson Scholarship at Fiorello LaGuardia H.S. for "the continuing enthusiasm and commitment shown to the arts by LaGuardia students and faculty."
Stevenson, the Wing's President, called this a banner year. Not only was the Board was able to increase the number of grant recipients from last year's 27 to this year's 33, but in June, the Wing's Tony® Awards will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
REMEMBERING LANCASTER: Although the late Burt Lancaster appeared in only one Broadway play‹"A Sound of Hunting" (1945, Lyceum Theatre) -- the event is vividly described in "Against Type/The Biography of Burt Lancaster" by Gary Fishgall.
The manner in which Lancaster was discovered was worthy of one of those backstage movies of the 1930's. Still in his Army uniform, Lancaster, who had been a circus acrobat in civilian life, entered a Manhattan elevator to visit a girlfriend and was spotted by Jack Mahlor, a man with theatrical connections. Mahlor was so impressed with Lancaster's rugged looks that he invited him to read for a new war play, "A Sound of Hunting" by Harry Brown.
With no formal training Lancaster was cast as a tough but likable sergeant. The play ran for only 23 performances, but critics were impressed with the new actor, then named Burton Lancaster. Within one month after the play closed, the former trapeze artist signed a Hollywood contract with Hal Wallis Productions, Inc., and became a star overnight with his first film: "The Killers." (Scribner, $25).
PASSPORT TIME: Thousands of theatregoers will receive up to 50 percent discounts on tickets to more than 200 Off-Broadway shows, when they participate in Passport to Off-Broadway, celebrating its sixth year (March 1-April 30). They also can call for a free copy of Hot Seats, a guide to more than 75 Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theatres, plus 7 neighborhood maps showing theatre locations, what is playing there and nearby restaurants. Passport to Off Broadway is a program of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, the trade and service organization for more than 300 Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatres. Among the major sponsors are The Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., American Express Company and Con Edison. For a free copy of Hot Seats, call (212) 768-1818.
42nd STREET GEM: If you have passed by the New Victory Theatre on W. 42nd Street, you are aware of what a magnificent job architect Hugh Hardy of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates has done in restoring this gem, the oldest legitimate theatre in Manhattan, dating back to 1900. Hardy has restored the magnificent outdoor double staircase embellished with wrought-iron lamps that bring nostalgic, old-world glamour to Times Square. Indoor, the resplendent domed house with its clusters of cherubim on the ceiling, is now an intimate playhouse of 500 seats, with enlarged lobby spaces and modern lighting, sound and projection features.
The glorious theatre is serving as New York's first full-time performing arts center for children. On March 1 performances start of Carlo Gozzi's "The Green Bird," a fantastical fable about teen-age siblings that deftly mixes commedia delle'arte, masks, puppets, contemporary characters and magical fairy-tale features. Produced by Theatre for a New Audience (artistic/producing director Jeffrey Horowitz), the spectacle opens officially on March 7 at 7 PM.
MELODIC MEMORIES: Two new CDs memorably recapture the golden era of songwriting and singing on Broadway and in Hollywood. "Cole Porter‹Piano Party" spotlights the stylish keyboard wizardry of Nero Young, who plays 40 of Cole Porter's stage and screen melodies that are perfect for dancing or for listening to while having cocktails. There are no vocals on the CD, just felicitous piano renderings of some of Porter's greatest show tunes (The Good Music Record Co.).
"Judy Garland‹25th Anniversary Retrospective" offers the beloved singer's best recordings‹25 songs and a 50-page booklet. You'll hear most of the major songs she made famous‹from "Over the Rainbow" to "The Trolley Song," and for a bonus she teams up with daughter Liza on a sprightly rendition of "Hello, Dolly!" (Capitol Records).
-- By Louis Botto