PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Private Lives — Keeping Up with the Chases

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18 Nov 2011

Kim Cattrall; guests Cynthia Nixon, Mario Cantone and Carolyn McCormick
Kim Cattrall; guests Cynthia Nixon, Mario Cantone and Carolyn McCormick
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the opening of Broadway's new production of Private Lives starring Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross.

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Samantha, Amanda. Amanda, Samantha.

Leave it to Noel Coward to introduce that proud and lusty wanton of television's "Sex of the City," Samantha Jones, to his own manipulative, self-satisfying mantrap, Amanda Chase Prynne. The two came together Nov. 17 at the Music Box in the form of Kim Cattrall for the eighth (!) Broadway outing of Private Lives.

One more life on The Great White Way, and the play will be sprouting cat claws. As it is, Cattrall does quite nicely with what she's got, which is a pronounced TV-made reputation for brazen sensuality. Director Richard Eyre sandpapers that down to fit snugly, smoothly into Coward's civilized sort of drawing-room comedy.



The Prynne part of Amanda's name is newly minted — in fact, awaiting consummation as the curtain rises on a posh Deauville hotel. The glasses of bubbly have been poured and placed on the balcony table when Amanda hears love's old refrain — "Someday I'll Find You," Coward's evergreen (and, in this context, a wicked little joke) — wafting across from the adjacent balcony, from the very mouth of Husband Number One, Elyot Chase, who himself is about to pounce into a honeymoon.

Coward-contrived coincidence can be so inconvenient. Of course, after five years of down time, the old sparks start flying back and forth like a remembered passion. It seems, once burned, both have opted for tepid low-flames the second time around — priggish, frilly Sybil and stolid, pipe-smoking Victor. Rather than explain their rekindled love, Elyot and Amanda high-tail it for her flat in Paris, leaving their brand-new spouses in the dust, wondering "what happened?"

It's quite a layout, Amanda's pad in Paris where Acts II and III are played. Rob Howell has envisioned it as a spacious aqua-tank, replete with a goldfish bowl, a porthole that opens and closes and schools of sea life swimming on the walls. (Private Lives invites outlandish visuals. You may recall Tim Hatley won a Tony nine years for reimagining the Act I hotel where Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan resided as a wedding cake that spiraled upward.)

Domestic donnybrooks occupy the final two-thirds of the play, lapsing into tag-team matches when the parties left behind enter the fray. An emergency French maid is brought in to mop up and makes entrances at all the wrong times, oblivious to the billowing chaos. Eventually, true love finds its way out of the shambles.

A general level of merriment followed the first-nighters a block and a half east to the after-party site, Bond 45 — and made the cramped elbow-rubbing at least tolerable.

Cynthia Nixon and Mario Cantone led the "Sex and the City" support-team but skipped the party and let Cattrall bask in the spotlight alone.

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The only representative from the most recent (2002) Private Lives was Carolyn McCormick, who "understudied when Lindsay was doing it, and I went on for the French maid for about two weeks." McCormick's husband, Byron Jennings, did Elyot at Seattle Rep, and "we've been asked to do it together, but, unfortunately, we've never done it. It never worked out with our schedules."

Other vested interests included a cluster of Noel Coward Society/Foundation officials and fans (among them, Barry Day, Ken Starrett and Alan Pally) — plus Disney Theatrical's Thomas Schumacher, whose Newsies is Broadway-bound March 29, Heather Lindell, director Frank Dunlop, columnist Liz Smith and archaeologist Iris Love, singer-lyricist Michael Stipe, Isabel Fonseca, Knopf kingpin Sonny Mehta and wife Gita, People magazine's Stephen M. Silverman, MOMA's current curator at large Klaus Biesenback and Steaming's still-steaming Linda Thorson.

Of the current five-member cast, only two have been on Broadway before — albeit, once before — and the chaste Mrs. Chase (Anna Madeley) was there longer than the divorced Mrs. Chase (Cattrall), having put in 78 performances as Matthew Broderick's fiancée in 2009's The Philanthropist vs. the fast 28 Cattrall did at the start of her career in Ian McKellen's 1986 Wild Honey.

Madeley, who claims British and Canadian allegiance but lives in the U.K., is quite content sharing the lower-billing berth with Simon Paisley Day's Victor, the show's other also-ran. "Noel Coward called them puppets — pins that keep getting knocked down and keep getting back up," she said of the show's new bride and groom, "but Richard, directing, helped us find a lot of fun between Sybil and Victor."

A Broadway debut is something to write home about, and that's precisely what Day did: "I wrote an email to my old parents today to say, 'This is about as good as it gets, and I wouldn't be here without you.' They are back in Kent in England. They're both quite disabled. They came and saw the original show in Bath in their wheelchairs. They sat in the front row and slept through half of it, but at least they saw this production so I know that they'll be thrilled to be here in spirit tonight."

Anna Madeley
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Physically present were his children and his wife, Delta Paisley. To avoid confusion with another Simon Day, he did the very un-Victor-like thing of taking his wife's maiden name for his middle name. "I thought it a modern-man sort of thing to do. My children are both Paisley-Days, so it's nice to be on the same page. Know what? They're hyphenated, and I'm not hyphenated, but it's nice to be different."

As the maid Louisa, who keeps her head down and doesn't involve herself with the comic chaos around her, Caroline Lena Olsson has the distinction of making her Broadway bow completely en francais, and in the third act. "I love doing it in French," she admitted, "but I never know how many people can understand me. Hopefully, they get what I'm doing. I'm there to enhance the turmoil going on."

This production happens to be the first time director Eyre has had a go at Coward, let alone Private Lives. "I'd seen it a bunch of times, and I thought, 'Well, if I'm going to do the play, I don't want to do it as I've seen it done before.' I simply thought, 'Look, this is a play that I've got to bring alive for the second decade of the 21st century, so I don't want it to be like an imitation of other productions. I don't want be like Noel Coward's reverential guardian.' I adore the play, and I have a great respect for the play, but I don't think that it needs to be austerely reverential."

Next on Eyre's agenda was to have been a stage adaptation (by Jon Robin Baitz) of movie producer Robert Evans' two books of memoirs, "The Kid Stays in the Picture" and its sequel, "The Fat Lady Sings," but the project has been canceled. "I had a great time working with Robbie on it, but the producer decided in the end he didn't want to go ahead with it. So there we are." Instead "is a film for the BBC of Shakespeare's Henry IV: Part I and II. I'm shooting it in the spring, and I guess it will be on here maybe next fall on PBS." For stars, he has Jeremy Irons, Simon Russell Beale and Julie Walters.

Continued...

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