By Robert Simonson
and Christine Ehren
18 Jun 2002
Say Goodnight Gracie: The Love, Laughter and Life of George Burns, the new one-man show by Rupert Holmes starring Frank Gorshin, has set dates for its Broadway bow at the Helen Hayes Theatre. It will begin previews on Sept. 17 for an opening Oct. 10. As things now stand, that time frame will make it the first new play to open in the new Broadway season.
John Tillinger directs the show, which has previously had runs at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and the Coconut Grove Playhouse. It won Florida's Carbonell Awards for Best New Play of 2000. Didi Conn provides the voice of Gracie Allen. John Lee Beatty is expected to do the set design.
Frank Gorshin may be known to a segment of the population as the Riddler from the popular Adam West "Batman" TV show, but the actor is also a gifted impressionist. "The thing about Frank and his impressions," Holmes told Playbill On-Line, "was not that he did the voices but that he made himself look like the actors. He was Burt Lancaster when he did him. He was Kirk Douglas." Holmes related an experience when he saw Gorshin imitate Burns; bereft of thick glasses or cigar, and before he spoke a word, several people in the audience reacted to Gorshin with the exclamation "George Burns," Holmes said.
In Say Goodnight, Gracie, comedian George Burns finds himself caught in limbo, unable to enter heaven until he plays his last performance, thereby preserving his perfect record of having never missed a curtain. Beginning with Burns' poverty-stricken youth on the Lower East Side of New York City, Gorshin recreates the great comedian's life, from his success in vaudeville and on the radio to his marriage to the love of his life, Gracie Allen, and her tragic death; finishing with Burns' late-in life, Academy Award-winning success on the silver screen and his establishment as a 20th-Century comedy icon.
Gracie is Holmes' first Broadway show in a decade. The playwright composer-singer won Tony Awards for both his book and score of the 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and another Tony for the show itself. His other Broadway credits include Accomplice and Solitary Confinement. He found success on television as the creator and writer of the long-running television series "Remember WENN," about a Pittsburgh radio station in the 1930s.
Lately, Holmes has returned to the theatre in a big way. In addition to Gracie, he has penned the book to the new the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams musical which will play Boston's Huntington Theatre this fall. His new thriller, Thumbs, will run at the Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod, MA, after a run at the Helen Hayes Theatre Company in Nyack, NY. The show may come to Off-Broadway in the future. Finally, he is at work at a stage musical of "Remember WENN." The Helen Hayes Theatre Company has announced the show for March 2003.