What's black and white and covered with "mean reds"? Why, the long-time-in-coming Broadway debut of Truman Capote's classic 1957 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's, which finally made it over the finish line March 20 at the Cort, of course.
First-nighters obviously got the dress-code memo and turned out splendidly turned out in black and white — a deep and respectful bow to the legendary black-and-white masque ball at the Plaza which Capote gave in 1966 to honor Katharine Graham. "Mean reds" was that horrible condition his idiosyncratic Tiffany's heroine, Holly Golightly, described as being afraid and not knowing what you're afraid of — and, certainly, that's an apt description of the anxieties on any Broadway opening night.
What Holly in the 1961 movie version always took for the "mean reds" was a cab to Tiffany's. "Calms me down right away," she always said. Unfortunately, Tiffany's is not a stop in Richard Greenberg's stage adaptation of the Capote story, although it does get around Manhattan circa 1943, following the antics of an exuberant spirit (one-part call-girl, one-part con-artist), as seen through the ever-widening eyes of a neighbor newly arrived to the city and to sin (Capote never gave himself, the narrator, a name; Holly called him "Fred" after her brother, away at World War II).
The popular Audrey Hepburn picture weighs a ton on this dark, sad little tale, which Capote originally told and which Greenberg has gamely attempted to second, to the point of merely typing huge chunks of the original verbiage into the play. Instead of Technicolor, the stage is atmospherically splashed with blowups of black-and-white photos right out of Life (the magazine). "We used the photographs of Andreas Feininger, who was a great photographer of New York in the 1940s," relayed set designer Derek McLane. "We got the rights from his estate to use his photographs and we had them printed on the scrim panels that surrounded the set. To me, they really feel like the cityscape of '40s New York.
"One of the challenges I faced is the fact that the play is so different from the movie it really needs to have its own look — something completely distinct from the movie. It's set in a different era and has a completely different tone. It's much more of a memory piece, more noir-y, darker, smokier — and these have a lot of atmosphere."
Broadway-bowing in the iconic lead roles — no pressure! — are Emilia Clarke, who hangs out with dragons and such on HBO's series "Game of Thrones" instead of oversexed urban cave-dwellers, and, as Designated "Fred," Cory Michael Smith, last seen peddling Mormon books (not in that show!), in The Whale Off-Broadway.
Clarke was fashionably late for her Star Entrance at the after-party in another universe of all black and all white, the elegantly renovated Edison Ballroom — and looked a vision in a black-spotted net affair whipped up by Dolce & Gabbana. "I feel wonderful, kind of euphoric," she said on her cloud ride through the press gauntlet. "It's so incredibly fulfilling, going back to my craft, doing this play."
Director David Cromer took time off from rehearsing Igor Stravinsky ( John Glover), George Balanchine ( Michael Cerveris), Serge Koussevitsky (Dale Place), Sergey Sudeikin (Alvin Epstein), Nikolai Nabokov (Stephen Kunken), et al in Nikolai and the Others at the Mitzi Newhouse to look after the Smiths of Ohio — father, mother, son Chad — all there to watch Cory Michael Smith turn into a star.
"The audience tonight was insanely generous and really sweet and very supportive," Young Smith observed. What he likes about his character is that Holly is still alive in him when he starts the play's flashback 14 years after the fact. "He's still so deeply in love with this person — or at least the idea of this person so he goes back and tells their story. Whether it's to let go of her or to deal with her, to talk it out — it's his version of therapy in front of a thousand people — but I think we all know that feeling of wanting someone or longing for someone. I think that it's something everyone can relate with. That's my favorite part. The story is very sad — very tragic to me."
Smith is particularly pleased that so much of Capote's original narration was retained. "When I read the novella, I was really delighted that Greenberg had honored the book. It was a really, really lovely adaptation. And the language is very important to me. It's a treat to be able to do that. We don't get to do a lot of modern plays where people talk like this. It's kinda poetic in a way that most things aren't. It's nice."
This is the second Breakfast at Tiffany's that Sean Mathias has directed in recent years — the other was back in London by an Australian writer — and he said it doesn't get easier. "No opening nights are fun," he said when breathing returned to normal. "The scary ones are a ten. I got through with about a six. It started really well. I have no nerves in me in the early part of the evening, but you know what happens? It's not so much the show or the fact the press come out, but your friends and family all come, and you're dealing with people you deal with in your every-day life — that's harder in a way. In a way, one shouldn't come to one's openings. One should just go away. How long is it going to take me to live on this planet to learn that lesson?"
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Shrewdly, director Mathias has surrounded his two newcomers with an armada of known and proven talents. Easily, the most familiar face is the "Cheers"-y one of George Wendt, now working the other side of the bar as bartender Joe Bell. "He's sort of a father figure and confidante to Fred and Holly," Wendt explained, "and I suspect he's sort of in love with Holly as well. Take a number on that one!" He's sure he must have done a bartender before but can't remember where or when. He was Santa the last time he showed his distinctive mug on Broadway (in Elf).
The excellent British actress, Suzanne Bertish, can be found here as Madame Spanella, a wild-haired, opera-singing, roller-skating neighbor who's not the party animal Holly is and complains about it operatically. The wig was not her idea. "It was the wig designer (David Brian Brown), and I said, 'I need all the help I can get with this part so let's have some mad hair' — and he did. That's the truth, by the way.
"What's great about working in New York, for me, is the variety one gets to play. A few months ago I was performing in prisons for The Public Theater — Richard III — and I was playing mad Queen Margaret. So it's from Shakespeare in prison to Capote on Broadway. We went to Rikers Island, with Ron Cephus-Jones as Richard. It was very, very moving. This man came up to me after the performance and said, 'You gave me vitamins for the soul.' He had not ever seen Shakespeare before."
Bertish also plays a stern editor who calls "Fred" on the carpet and demands, "What is your hostility toward the semi-colon?" The character is a Greenberg invention.
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Another character wholly created for the play is a closeted gay editor that "Fred" is pitching his stories to. "I based the performance on several editors I know," said John Rothman, who is counting his wife, at present editor-in-chief at Workman Publishing. "Holly encourages 'Fred' to enclose his picture to me, and I take him to lunch at 21.' I've done a lot of research for this part at 21 and took our star Cory to the bar there. We had a lovely evening, and I enjoyed re-discovering 21." Tony Torn, who plays the millionaire Holly has set her cap and trap for, said that he was delighted to be making his Broadway debut at the Cort where his mother triumphed in The Rainmaker and Clothes for a Summer Hotel. She was Geraldine Page, whose Capote connection ("A Christmas Memory") earned her an Emmy Award. "I was able to track down a copy of it because it's not commercially available," said Torn, "and that was my gift to the whole cast."
The balding, buoyant Eddie Korbich essays three roles during the show and sets a hirsute record doing it, via a white wig, a dark red toupee and a scholarly goatee. "That's what I love doing," he confessed. "I love doing all different parts and being different every single time I come on. It's a blast! During A Christmas Story, I had two busloads from my hometown in Pennsylvania come, and they said, 'It was like "Where's Waldo?" 'There he is.' No, there he is. 'No, there he is.' I'm loving it."
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Veteran comic Lee Wilkof barks out the role of O.J. Berman as well as Martin Balsam did in the movie. "I understood the guy the second that I read it," Wilkof admitted. "He speaks his mind, withholds nothing. I think he's a street guy, and I think he loves her, but he knows she's a real phony as opposed to a phony phony. There's a difference between being a phony phony and a real phony. 'She believes everything she believes' — that's one of my lines. 'You can't talk her out of it.' The rhythms were all there for the role. They wanted me to audition for a reading of this a few years ago. I generally don't audition for readings, but I wanted this part—even for the reading. I wanted to sink my teeth into it. It's little, but it's a little gem." Next for Wilkof is the Jack Warden role in the Bullets Over Broadway musical ("I'm following in the footsteps of the greats"). Then, he will try to get off the ground a movie he co-wrote with Ethan Sandler, "Lounge Act," which he hopes to direct. It takes place in the Actors' Equity lounge," he said, "and I have on board Nathan [Lane], Laurie Metcalf, Austin Pendleton, Boyd Gaines and Jessica Hecht."
Estragon, Vladimir, Lucky and Pozzo led the evening's glittering guest list. Come fall, you'll recognize them as Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley in a Waiting for Godot which director Mathias will twirl in rep with the McKellen-Stewart No Man's Land. The latter will go into rehearsal July 1 and put in a month of playing in Berkeley before returning to hook up with Godot for Broadway.
It has been a long wait for this Godot, said Sir Ian. "We did it two seasons in London and all over the world — Australia, New Zealand, South Africa — and now we're finally bringing it to Broadway. We'll probably be here about six months."
R&H's favorite Jud, Hensley will first head for the Kennedy Center to start rehearing The Guardsman April 20. Ferenc Molnar's classic comedy, a smash for The Lunts, has been adapted by Richard Nelson and will be directed by Gregory Mosher. His two co-stars are arriving sorta D.O.A.: Finn Wittrock, from Broadway's last Death of a Salesman and Sarah Wayne Calles of "The Walking Dead."
A Sting-less Trudie Styler, who's using Mathias soon as a director, was beaming about daughter Mickey Sumner making her stage debut at the Atlantic in The Lying Lesson. Styler promised that she'd be producing The Seagull "later this year" at The Lynn Redgrave Theatre (nee 45 Bleecker), helmed by Max Stafford-Clark. Out and about, and very good to see on the Rialto again: Barbara Walters of "The View" and Cindy Adams of The Post as well as Pat Schoenfeld and Betty Jacobs.
Also in attendance: Jason Sudeikis with Olivia Wilde, Ben Vereen, in top hat and tennis shoes; Debbie Harry, Edward Hibbert, composer Henry Krieger, Edna O'Brien, Zac Posen, Danish model Heidi Albertsen, Anna Sophia Robb, Countess LuAnn de Lessups and Jacques Azoulay.