PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Frost/Nixon David and His Zingshot

By Harry Haun
23 Apr 2007

"I've never had the opportunity of playing somebody who came and saw the show. He wrote me he was coming tonight, and it was different than I thought it would be. I thought it'd be intimidating, but it was just the right energy. 'I'm going to do this guy justice.'"

Armand Schultz also had in attendance his counterpart Bob Zelnick, whose work on the Frost team earned his entry at ABC News as a correspondent. "After we'd been in rehearsal for a couple of weeks, I called Bob," Schultz recalled. "We played phone tag, and then, when he called back, we were both watching the same NCAA basketball game. I said, 'Can I call you back when it's over?' He said, 'Yeah, yeah.' Then we spoke on the phone from 10 o'clock at night until 12:30 in the morning. I wanted to ask him historical questions. A lot of the show is historical, and a lot of it is obviously Peter Morgan's version of what happened. He was fabulous on letting me know inside things about him that helped when I went back into rehearsal for the second two weeks.

"I'm not really doing Bob Zelnick, but I am. I remember watching Bob on ABC News for years. He was the correspondent for the Supreme Court and the Pentagon, so I knew what his delivery was. I didn't really try to do that. If you talk to him, he has a very low cadence and that would reach 25 rows back, but on the microphone you know who he is."

Opening night was Zelnick's first time to see himself on the stage. "It was a great experience. This was a big part of my life in terms of the commitment at the time and in terms of opening doors to ABC. I don't think I would have ended up a correspondent if I didn't have the selling point of the Frost/Nixon interviews. Brilliantly written, excellent theatre. Some poetic license was taken with fact, but the author acknowledges that."

And he was pleased with how he was presented. "I have no complaints at all. I'm flattered. Any time you're portrayed by someone 30 years younger than you, it's not bad."

The other key member of the Frost team, John Birt, escaped the radar of the actor portraying him. "I haven't met him," admitted Remy Auberjonois, who creatively disfigures himself with a comb-over. "We made a conscious decision not to make him John Birt. Because he's not well-known here, we didn't feel it was necessary to make him the actual guy. I'm playing a character named John Birt who has similar characteristics."

Bob Ari, who understudied Nathan Lane in The Man Who Came to Dinner, has drawn the black bean again and is standing by for Langella. "I went up to Michael Sheen and said, 'You did the show for nine months in England. Did he ever miss a show?' Never. Never. I said, 'Thank God' because that's daunting. I have it under my belt now, and I'm ready to go. It's like insurance: You pay it, and you're pissed off that you're paying for it, but when you need it, you're awfully glad you have it. I hope I get on. At least once."

Director Grandage, who'll be 45 next month, was enjoying the colonies' radically different response to the play. "I was thrilled," he declared emphatically. "It's the first time I've experienced an American audience with a play since I've not been on Broadway before. It's been fascinating for me to watch how America receives this play, having done it in England. It's a very different dynamic. You obviously understand so much about Richard Nixon that maybe didn't quite get through in England where they favored and understood a lot more about David Frost. The two here are in a slightly different place."

He won't be resting on any laurels right now, although there were plenty for him in the morning papers. "I'm going back to carry on running the Donmar," he said. "We have an opening night on Wednesday, which I need to get back for: Kiss of the Spider Woman [the play, not the musical] with Will Keen and Rupert Evans. Then there's a whole lot of planning to do for the next year, but I'll come back to keep an eye on this show."

Harvey Weinstein, arriving with Geraldine Chapman as one of the producers of Frost/Nixon, said he made a special point of skipping the closing of his other Broadway show hours earlier. "I can't believe The Producers is closed. I haven't begun to admit it to myself."

Representing another branch of journalistic whistle-blowing at the opening were The New York Times' Frank Rich and Alex Witchell, who are portrayed in the new John Malkovich movie, "Color Me Kubrick," by William Hootkins and Marisa Berenson. Years ago, on a play-watching expedition in London, they found themselves sitting next to a boorish stranger who claimed to be Stanley Kubrick. Rich's subsequent article in The Times about the incident helped topple the impostor who'd worked that charade for years.

"We were asked to play ourselves in the movie and turned them down," Rich admitted. Nor have they viewed the results. "We have the disc, but we haven't watched it yet."

Tony Bennett, who came with Susan Crow, was one of the first-nighters who had already seen Frost/Nixon in London. Another was "Sex and the City" star Kim Cattrall. "It's the third time I've seen it," she said. "I saw it at the Donmar Warehouse in August and again in October. I was in a David Mamet play there called The Cryptogram."

Next, Cattrall will be doing a film in Dublin called "My Boy Jack." "It's the story of Rudyard Kipling and his family I play Carrie Kipling, his wife at the time their son is killed in the first World War. The title role will be played by Daniel Radcliffe (a.k.a. Harry Potter) prior to coming to Broadway with Richard Griffiths in Equus."

Tony-winning choreographer Rob Ashford, delighting in the coin-jangling going on over his Curtains, isn't doing any laurel-resting either. "I start tomorrow a workshop of Cry-Baby, this new musical based on the John Waters 1990 movie." Conrad John Schuck and Jan Maxwell are starring at the lift-off, and the Johnny Depp title role, Ashford declared, "will be played by a 22-year-old guy from L.A. you've never heard of, but you'll know him after this James Snyder. It's being directed by Mark Brokaw. The workshop will last four weeks, and then we'll do it again in La Jolla in September."

Flame-haired Frances Fisher was in attendance by virtue of being a friend of Michael Sheen, having the same manager and being in New York at the right time. "I just saw Kevin Spacey, who's another friend of mine, this afternoon. I've had five hours of extraordinary theatre." Which makes a girl want to get back onstage again. "The last theatre I did was The Cherry Orchard with Annette Bening last year. I'm dying to come back to New York and do another play. I think my last play here was in 1984 at the Joyce Theatre. I haven't been here for, like, 26 years. I have been doing lots of movies."

Others at the opening included Journey's End's Hugh Dancy with Claire Danes, Jane Krakowski, Jo Anne Worley (trilling shrilly over her eighth performance in The Drowsy Chaperone she calls me "Mr. Playbill"), Duncan Sheik in flip-flops with his Spring Awakening lyricist-librettist Steven Sater, Barbara Cook with Harvey Evans, Naomi Watts, Simon Jones (who has started rehearsing Phallacy with Lisa Harrow for their Cherry Lane opening on May 16), Barbara Walters (introducing Cindy Adams to her date as "my very good friend"), Mike Wallace (depicted in a brief film sequence in the play with eerie exactness by Stephen Rowe, who then shaves his dome and passes for Swifty Lazar), novelist Dominick Dunne and Coram Boy director Melly Still.

An era is drawing to a close with this season. Broadway's party-giving Perle Mesta, Suzanne Tobak, announced she will be passing out her last party hats and horns at the Tony Awards on June 10, leaving the business of feting first-nighters to her partner, Michael Lawrence. "I'll be working full time at The Actors Fund. I'm excited. It's the most wonderful organization in the world. It's their 125th anniversary, so they have a very ambitious schedule of events and a lot of fund-raising opportunities, and it gives me a chance to return to not-for-profit and give back. How many of these opening-night parties can we go to?"

I'm thinking, I'm thinking.