PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Present Laughter — Garber Gives Acting Liaisons

By Harry Haun
22 Jan 2010

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Banes, who returned from the West Coast last year playing an actress in Accent on Youth, said she enjoys her role here as a distantly hovering wife: "Liz has a great heart, and she cares for all these people so much, loves them so much and wants all these friendships that are in the play to survive."

And Garber presents no obstacles to her. "He's a cinch to love. It's hard not to just devour him every time you're on stage. He's so wonderful. He's such a wonderful head of the company — like David Hyde Pierce was [in Accent on Youth]."

Gray makes a marvelous clothes horse for Greenwood's vintage duds. "She's a dream. We wish Jane would follow us around in life and dress us. It's so incredible. That black-and-white number! It's straight out of 'The Women,' straight out of old movies. You just can't believe you're going to get a chance to wear things like that."

One of the best physical comedians around, Ashmanskas has a field day as the pushy playwright who gives hero worship a bad name, coming on like a Tasmanian devil full of tics and twitches. "I had a good time, and I continue to," he admitted. "It's such a great play, such a great part, such a great cast, such a great set — y'know, such a gift to be able to do it. So much of my stuff is with Victor, and we've been friends for a long time. Nicky's my old friend, too. He was my teacher in college, 400 years ago."

Lane, back from the Chicago tryout of The Addams Family, showed up and was a one-man cheering section. In the cast, he found more than his former secretary. He found a wife (Gray was Mrs. Butley) and a brother (he and Garber were Mizners back when Road Show was Wise Guys. "It was just lovely to see everybody doing such wonderful work," he remarked.

Another connection: Lane made his Broadway debut as Present Laughter's insistent playwright (the Ashmanskas role) — "29 years ago," he added heavily. "I have many, many memories of this show."

So, too, does Michael Ritchie, who now runs the Ahmanson and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. At the time, in that particular production, he was stage manager. In that capacity, he met and married a young actress days out of college, Kate Burton. Their son, Morgan Ritchie, co-starred with Mom in a much-acclaimed Williamstown production of The Corn Is Green, directed by Martin.

And when will that make it to New York? Good question, thought Martin. "You must ask that question of Todd Haimes and Andre Bishop," he said. "And when you get the answer, let me know."

Director Maria Aiken arrived at Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre on the arm of her husband, novelist Patrick McGrath, in effect returning to the scene of the crime (i.e., her thriller antic, The 39 Steps started at that theatre, and just finished a Broadway run of 771 performances, and will move into New World Stages on March 25 for an Off-Broadway postscript). Her next trick? "I'm becoming a grandmother in a week's time, and that's going to take up February."

Michael Cerveris, fresh from the doctor's office after having just played one in In the Next Room or the vibrator play, came with cane in hand. "Just a little minor surgery," he sloughed off with magnificent matter-of-factness (the "prop" helped). "I've got some things percolating but nothing I'm positive about. And meanwhile I'm going to Vancouver and shoot more episodes of 'Fringe.'"

The Understudy playwright Theresa Rebeck and her muse, Tony winner Julie White, showed up in support of Roundabout. The latter kicked up her high heels with Mario Cantone for the paparazzi in front of the theatre. "I just finished the show on Sunday, and people are already saying, 'What's next? What's next?'" White ranted. "I think it'll take me a while to do another play. Where am I going to find one I like as much as what Theresa writes?"

"I got another 'Transformers' movie to do over the summer. I don't think he [director Michael Bay] is going to make us run as much. He spoke to me. He was, like, 'I won't do that to you. I won't actually blow things up around you.' I said, 'I thank you. I appreciate that.' I'll just have to do a little amusing mothering and be out of there."

With their Catch Me If You Can in a holding pattern over Broadway, what are Hairspray songsmiths Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman doing next? "The Oscars," shouted out Wittman, meaning they will be popping some late-breaking "special material" out of the hat at the end of the show as they did so brilliantly for Neil Patrick Harris's stellar close to the last Tony Awards.

Bye Bye Birdie composer Charles Strouse and wife Barbara said they'd be catching A Little Night Music on Sunday. They were anxious to see how Catherine Zeta-Jones turned out. ("She was the first Annie in London after Andrea McArdle," said Strouse.)

Hope Davis, on well-earned R&R from God of Carnage and John Patrick Walker said they were getting back into parenting, as did Christopher Fitzgerald and Jessica Stone, who once upon a time co-starred magically in Martin's Where's Charley? at Williamstown.

"I actually just did She Stoops to Conquer with Nicky in the fall at the McCarter," said Stone, "but now I'm Mom, and little things are percolating in the future." Little things like babies? Fitzgerald, newly liberated from Finian's Rainbow, perished the thought: "No — no more little leprechauns, thank you."

Other "old marrieds" in attendance: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Dylan and Becky Ann Baker, Candida's upcoming designer-director Tony Walton and Jen LeRoy, director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall and producer Scott Landis, Carolyn McCormick and Byron Jennings, Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny (both heading for George Street Playhouse in March to start rehearsing Sylvia for director David Saint).

Also first-nighting-it: John Benjamin Hickey, Tovah Feldshuh, record mogul Clive Davis, John Weidman, director Walter Bobbie, Sutton Foster (finally free of workshop work and readying to start a concert tour), her Leap of Faith workshop director-choreographer Rob Ashford, Zachary Quinto, Andrea Martin, Steven Pasquale sans Laura Benanti, Jessica Molaskey sans John Pizzarelli, playwright J. T. Rogers, Jack Noseworthy, Judith Ivey (buffing up Roundabout's The Glass Menagerie for February) and her designer for that show, Martin Pakledinaz, Jason Fuchs, Roundabout regular Emily Bergl ("I'm in the new TNT drama, 'Southlands,' which moved from CBS, and I'm doing a fantastic play by David Schulner in L.A. at The Black Dahlia called Forgiveness in a month"), Phyllis Newman, Edward Hibbert, directors Michael Greif and Scott Ellis (the latter currently helming Mr. and Mrs. Fitch at Second Stage), Ordinary Days songwriter Adam Gwon and Lily Rabe, just back from the Oregon-filming of "Letters to a Big Man" and looking forward to summer in the park with Portia in The Merchant of Venice.