PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Woman in White: The Lord Moves in Mystery Ways

By Harry Haun
18 Nov 2005

Unsurprisingly, Nunn was on the first flight back to London after the opening. "I'm about to do a production of Peter Shaffer's wonderful play, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, which I once set up at the National Theatre when I was running the National, and there were all sorts of problems that meant we had to not do the production at that time. But Peter signed a document, saying the only theatre that could do The Royal Hunt of the Sun was the National and the only director to do it was me. So it's come around again, and the National said, `Please, will you come back and do it?' So I am. We start rehearsals pretty much immediately into the new year." Which begs the question of cast, but Nunn ducked that one. "I'm going to make a big announcement about that soon, and not to you."

Shaffer, a Tony winner for Equus and Amadeus, was in attendance with his Amadeus producer Liz McCann. A friend at their table mentioned that Shaffer's Five Finger Exercise, which hasn't been seen locally since its original Broadway production of 1960, would be eminently revivable. "I'd love to see that again," Shaffer admitted. "Talk it up."

The first-night guest list ran rangily from six-foot-six Tommy Tune to four-foot-seven Dr. Ruth Westheimer. He: "I just came from a big big production meeting on Doctor Dolittle. I'm getting so excited. We start preproduction Nov. 28, then we start practical rehearsal on Dec. 12, and we open in Houston Jan. 27." She is a self-confused Phantomaniac: "I have seen Phantom of the Opera 24 times. Everytime somebody came to visit, from Israel or Europe, I'd say, `I'll get you tickets to Phantom. I love Phantom, but I'm not going again.' Then, right when I'm making the order, I change my mind and go again. Twenty-four times! I need a new Andrew Lloyd Webber so I hope I've found a new passion."

Others in attendance: Barbara Walters, "Sex and the City's" Kim Cattral, choreographers Rob Ashford and Jerry Mitchell, directors Jerry Zaks and Des McAnuff (the latter, now that Jersey Boys is on Easy Street, is preparing for a full scale production of Lucy Simon's musical Zhivago at his La Jolla Playhouse in April), Cats' Liz Callaway, Kathie Lee Gifford (taking her fashion cue for the evening from the title and feeling embarrassed nobody else did), Michael Feinstein with Roslyn Kind, Cilla Black, Harvey Evans, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, playwright David Ives, and composer Craig Carnelia (who just had a sensational revival of Is There Life After High School at the York Theatre Company). All these, and Sir Cliff Richard.

Sunset Boulevard's Alan Campbell attended with his wife, Lauren Kennedy, who inherits Sara Ramirez's Tony-winning Lady of the Lake routine in Spamalot on Dec. 20. Christopher Sieber, himself a Tony nominee for that show, was raving about the replacements' first read-through this week. "Lauren was wonderful, and Simon Russell Beale [who's replacing Tim Curry as King Arthur] is a great lesson for all of us.

The Campbells are former Upper West Siders, now Westchesterians—up by Glenny (Glenn Close, his Norma Desmond). "Now that the wife is working, I've taken up diaper duty." Temporarily taking a breather from diaper duty is Charlotte Jones, who adapted Wilkie Collins' 1860 pageturner into a 2005 stagetuner. "I've got two small children, and I've spent the last nine months changing diapers so this is very glamorous for me," she said. The Women in White is her first musical. "For America, I did some rewriting via e-mail, but we kept working on the London show as well so, by the time we came to the American production, the book was in quite good shape. I saw it in London two weeks ago, and I think the ensemble is perhaps even stronger than the London company." Now she was moved on—or back—to straight plays from whence she came. "I've just written a new play, and it's going to be on at the Almeida in London next year. It's called The Lightning Play. It's an emotional thriller about a family, set at Halloween."

David Zippel, the City of Angels Tony winner who put words to Lord Lloyd Webber's music, will rate his own musical salute in the "American Songbook" series at Lincoln Center on Feb. 24—Go the Distance: The Lyrics of David Zippel. "I'm casting it with B's: Brent Barrett, Barbara Cook and Brian D'arcy James," he quipped. Also, his musical with Cy Coleman and Wendy Wasserstein—Pamela's First Musical—will premiere at Palo Alto. In the title role, Angela Christian strikes quite a different image than she had as Miss Dorothy, the best pal of Thoroughly Modern Millie. "I may be the titular character this time, but I am certainly not the protagonist," she allowed.

Although the Collins book wasn't required reading for the cast—"the musical is very freely adapted so it wasn't necessary"—she availed herself anyway. "I absolutely wanted, and needed, to read it because there is a ton of backstory that I can still apply to myself, whether or not it's in this particular script. It was actually mandatory for me because a lot of this script is ambiguous. They wanted the audience to wonder whether or not my character was a ghost. The book is fantastic and it did wonders for helping me find this poor girl."

Most of Count Falco's nefarious plans are implemented by Ron Bohmer, who graduated to grim villainy by way of knockabout comedy (specifically, Gerard Alessandrini's fun-poke at Broadway, Forbidden Broadway, Vol. 8—Special Victims Unit). Indeed, they overlapped for a while. "They're such different animals," he said. "The wonderful thing about Forbidden Broadway is that it's a very by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing. In many cases, you learn the songs that afternoon, throw on a costume and just go out there and act like an idiot. I have a history with that show. It was my first real job in New York." The mind boggles at what Alessandrini will make of The Woman in White. "He came to our second preview," Bohmer noted. "Actually, I was quite relieved to hear he loves the show. He thinks it's terrific. I don't know what he's going to do yet, but I think it's going to have something to do with a slide project."

Probably the most controversial aspect of the show is the rush of scenery that is projected on unadorned white revolving walls—sort of a Cinerama slip-and-slide show—and has been known to cause some mild motion sickness. Indeed, adjustments were made in the original London production because the scenery shifted so swiftly it left the audience a bit seasick. "I feel in the grip of a ravishing nausea," is how actor-composer Ed Dixon described the swirl of spectacle. He has a few shows up his sleeve now. As composer-lyricist-book writer, he has a production of Fanny Hill "that is going to go into the York in January, and we'll open on Valentine's Day. Then, I'm going to go to Washington D.C. to do The Persians, which I did for Tony Randall's company. It's the same production. Ethan McSweeney's directing it, with many of the same cast. Then, also in D.C., I'm going into Eric Schaeffer's Mame June 1at the Kennedy Center with Christine Baranski and Harriet Harris. I'm Lindsay Woolsey. Max von Essex will be Patrick, Emily Skinner will be Gooch and—a sight I'm longing to see—Mary Stout will be Mother Burnside."