PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: You're Welcome America. A Final Night with...Bush 43 Skidoo

By Harry Haun
06 Feb 2009

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Standing off to the side while the paparazzi pored over Glenn was her boyfriend. "I'm very happy to be standing back here," insisted Salman Rushdie. The famed novelist and the former "Lady of the Lake" of Spamalot (a year and a half on the original first national tour) met via that show's book writer, Eric Idle. "He's an old friend of mine," said Rushdie, "and, when Pia was in Spamalot, I went to a dinner he gave in Los Angeles and met her there. The rest is history, as they say."

His current project is, of all things, a children's book. "I have an 11-year-old child, who is insisting on having a book for him, so I'm trying to do that right now."

By far, the proudest papa at the party was Lee Ferrell, basking in the Broadway debuts of both sons. "One of the things we did since they were little boys my former wife and myself was take them to the theatre," he said. "We have such a respect for the stage and the discipline it requires. How can anybody do eight shows a week? How can anybody cry and laugh and do all of that eight times a week?

"You know what's really fun? When I go see Will, I don't think of it as being Will. That's a compliment to his abilities. Tonight, and the other nights I've seen this piece, it's not really Will. It's George Bush. Emotionally, it's like this is the big dream and it's a good time for New York to have a good run with the show."

The show's lead producer, Jeffrey Richards, was predictably pleased at what he hath wrought: "I thought he was terrific. He creates a genuine character. There's a real arc to what's going on, and the audiences have just responded wonderfully. I think that what's especially impressive is that he wrote the whole evening."

Richards is not through producing this season. Three more months to go before the Tony cut-off date, he may average a show a month: Blithe Spirit on March 15, Hair on March 31 and, 'tis rumored, a sudden transfer of director Robert Falls' acclaimed Chicago revival of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms starring Brian Dennehy, Carla Gugino and Pablo Schreiber. About the latter, Richards remained tight-lipped in his cat-who-ate-the-canary fashion: "I think it's coming in. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's a terrific production. I hope somebody I know brings it in."

James Lipton, host of TV's "Inside the Actors Studio," was not surprised by Ferrell's mimicry ability. "He's a very sensitive man, and his skills are limitless," Lipton offered. "He came on my show as me and interviewed me. He's done me about eight times on 'Saturday Night Live' so by now I'm sorta used to it."

Paul Rudd and Jason Segal, in town promoting their March movie "I Love You, Man," led the rather hip crowd of first-nighters. "I'd love to come back to Broadway," admitted Rudd, who was last seen on the Main Steam opposite Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain. "I'm getting 'The Jones,' y'know. It's been too long since I've done a play. I hope to, very soon." Quizzed Segal, "Is that what you call it 'The Jones'?"

"Knocked Up's" Segal professed to be "blown away" by Ferrell. "He's just fearless. It was an amazing show. I felt very luck to be here on opening night." Next, the towering Segal heads for England in April to be reduced to Lilliputian size for a reimagined "Gulliver's Travels" that will star Jack Black and Emily Blunt.

Other first-nighters included Jayne Atkinson and Simon Jones (Blithe Spirits, both), Jimmy Fallon and Ana Gasteyer ("Saturday Night Live" fallout), two-time Tony nominee Eve Best (in town filming a TV series called "Nurse Jackie"), Tony-winning best buds Julie White and Cady Huffman, chef Bobby Flay and the Mrs. (Stephanie March), Jon Hamm and Jennifer Westfeldt, Comedy Central's Demetri Martin, Brooke Shields ("Find me an original musical to do on Broadway!"), Spring Awakened but Hairless Jonathan Groff with mum, Clea Lewis, "30 Rock's" Jack McBrayer, Lucy Liu, composer Frank Wildhorn, Richard Thomas and wife, Neil Pepe and Mary McCann, Tamara Tunie, Phyllis Newman and Exit the King's Geoffrey Rush.

Last but hardly least there was "Saturday Night Live" honcho Lorne Michaels, who anointed Ferrell president-to-be nine years ago. "Will could do anything, generally, in the year 2000. When we started to do the election debate, Daryl Hammond had done Gore once or twice, so I asked Will to do Bush. I think Jim Downey's writing and Will's likability the fact that the audience so adores Will is why the character went over so well."