PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Brief Encounter A Coward With Thunderbolts

By Harry Haun
29 Sep 2010

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Joseph Alessi as a jovial ticket-taker and Annette McLaughlin as the tearoom proprietress handle the broad comic relief and enjoy a little hanky-panky on the side, expressed in a particularly rowdy dance number. "It keeps me in shape," he quips correctly. "It's a very physical show. Sure beats working for a living."

He, too, appreciates the use of the hall. "It's grown at Studio 54, which has a beautiful chocolate-box proscenium-arch built in 1921. I think the show works so much better there. The show has worked everywhere, but, when we did the U.K. tour, it always worked better in the little old proscenium-arch theatres, and the show came alive. It really did. Studio 54 is a fantastic place for it here. Not only is it a great proscenium-arch theatre, it has a lovely, naughty history from the infamous '70s."

Coward aficionados came in an assortment of shapes and professions. Cabaret impresario Donald Smith was in that number, and, not so incidentally, is "doing a Noel Coward night at The Cabaret Convention on Oct. 8, with all kinds of wonderful people — Christopher Fitzgerald, Elaine Stritch, Jennifer Sheehan, Christine Ebersole, Steve Ross . . ."

Sean Malone came in from Genesee Depot, WI., where he runs The Ten Chimney Foundation, headquartered at the summer home of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne where Coward frequently holidayed (he had his own room there). "Coward came to Ten Chimneys often and enjoyed Alfred's cooking, and they enjoyed his music," Malone said. "It was a friendship that was very special to the three of them."

Barry Day, a Coward buff and biographer as befits a Trustee of The Noel Coward Foundation, arrived in a state of keen anticipation, despite two previous viewings. "I've seen it twice," he confessed unabashedly. "I saw it in Leeds when it was on its tour in 2007 and I saw it in London when it first played there. It's very, very faithful to the original material. We need a bit more romance in our lives, I think."

Alan Brodie, the attorney who holds the keys to the Coward estate and thus allowed all of this to come to pass, was clearly cheered by the results and recalled director-adapter Rice's first enthusiastic pitch to him about the project: "She was very passionate about what she wanted to do and talked a lot about Noel Coward and keeping it in the spirit of Coward, so we decided to take the risk. Also, we wanted to reach younger audiences, which it has. Wherever it has played in the U.K. and the U.S., the audiences have been much younger than you will often find for Coward plays. Another thing we did was open up the catalog to her on the understanding that everything in the piece would be Noel Coward-written — the songs, the poems, he wrote everything. Emma just rearranged the material."

Such a Coward fanatic is Gavin Lee that he asked for, and got, the night off from Mary Poppins. The original Bert of London and Broadway resumed local operations five weeks ago after a year-and-a-half tour and finds himself again co-starring with the original London flying-nursemaid, Laura Michelle Kelly. He was with his large-with-child wife, actress Emily Harvey. "We were both on the tour, and we had the best time," Lee says. "She understudied five of the principals so she was on for someone nearly every night." As for the blessed event, "it's a girl, and she's due Thursday week — in nine days. We have a couple of names that we're toying with, but we're going to wait till she pops out. Then, we will know."

Others who graced the first red-carpet of the new Broadway seasons were Melina Kanakaredes of "CSI: NY"; Margaret Lacy, set to co-star with Olympia Dukakis for Roundabout's The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore; Margaret Colin of "Gossip Girl"; Victor Garber, coming down from the big screen of "You Again"; Dana Ivey, still high from her Happy Days triumph at Westport and looking forward to Roundabout's upcoming The Importance of Being Earnest opposite Brian Bedford's Lady Bracknell; Kate Baldwin, fresh from her own Westport triumph, I Do! I Do!; Claudia Shear; producer-comedienne (there's only one) Jamie deRoy; Tony winners Debra Monk and Michael Cerveris of "Fringe" (the TV variety); Tovah Feldshuh, bracing for her upcoming turn in Love, Loss, and What I Wore; Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick (she's recording the lead voice in a new Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl); playwrights Theresa Rebeck and Christopher Shinn; perpetually employed Reed Birney, poised to pounce Oct. 6 in Tigers Be Still, Chandler Williams, now of "The Good Wife"; Nick Wyman; producer Liz McCann; keeper-of-the-Kaufman-flame Anne Kaufman Schneider, anticipating this season's Broadway revival of her dad and Moss Hart's You Can't Take It With You, produced by La McCann; MaryLouise Burke with costumer Martin Pakledinaz, the latter dividing his time between Arena Stage's Oklahoma! and Broadway's Anything Goes ("I'm bi-East Coastal!"); The Public's Oskar Eustis; directors Michael Wilson and Walter Bobbie; Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham and Jason Fuchs.

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