PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 23-29: Big Talent Lined Up for Little Dancer and TV Stars Flock to Off-Broadway

How do you cast iconic artists like filmmaker Billy Wilder and author Raymond Chandler, names known to all but without a fixed physical image in the public mind?

Vincent Kartheiser
Vincent Kartheiser

Well, the Vineyard Theatre, producer of Billy & Ray, a new play by Mike Bencivenga, has found a way.

This week it was announced that Vincent Kartheiser, known for playing the advertising anti-hero Pete Campell on the hit AMC TV show "Mad Men," will will play Billy Wilder. His co-star will be Larry Pine, as Raymond Chandler. Previews will begin Oct. 1.

Wilder and Chandler famously collaborated on 1944's "Double Indemnity," one of the greatest film noirs of all time, and based on James M. Cain's novel. But they also famously clashed repeatedly during the lengthy collaboration to create the script. Wilder was in his late 30s at the time, while Chandler was in his mid-50s.

The play's director is a seemingly odd choice: Garry Marshall, the man behind such sitcoms as "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," "Mork & Mindy" and " The Odd Couple," and lightweight movies like "Pretty Woman." But there's a reason he's in the director's seat: Marshall staged the play's world premiere in spring 2013 at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, CA.

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Both director-choreographer Susan Stroman and the composing team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty had a rough time on Broadway this past season. Neither Stroman's Bullets Over Broadway or Ahrens and Flaherty's Rocky proved to be hits. But they're both back in the ring this summer with a new musical at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Little Dancer will play the Eisenhower Theater Oct. 25-Nov. 30. The show is described as, "Part fact, part fiction, and set in the harsh backstage world of the Paris Opera Ballet… inspired by the young ballerina who posed for Edgar Degas and became, inadvertently, the most famous dancer in the world."

Tiler Peck
Tiler Peck

With that setting, Stroman certainly won't lack for opportunities to break out a dance number or seven. Playing the very-French Degas will be the very-American actor Boyd Gaines. Gaines collaborated happily with Stroman on Contact, another dance-heavy, high-concept musical.

Also in the cast are Rebecca Luker as Adult Marie van Goethem and New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck as Young Marie van Goethem, as well as Karen Ziemba, who was also in Contact and Bullets Over Broadway

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T.R. Knight, erstwhile star of "Grey's Anatomy," is back on the stage. He will star in Pocatello, a new work by playwright Samuel D. Hunter at Playwrights Horizons, that will begin performances Nov. 21.

Joining Knight — who has regularly been doing theatre since his series ended, appearing in Romeo and Juliet Off-Broadway and A Life in the Theatre on Broadway — are Jessica Dickey, Jonathan Hogan, Brian Hutchison, Leah Karpel, Cameron Scoggins, Brenda Wehle, Danny Wolohan and Elvy Yost.

Knight will play Eddie, the manager of an Italian chain restaurant in Pocatello — a small, unexceptional American city that is slowly being paved over with strip malls and franchises.

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The American Repertory Theater production of the possibly Broadway-bound new musical Finding Neverland may not have found the kind of reviews it wanted when it opened a couple weeks back. But audiences are finding a show they seem to like.

A.R.T. has broken box office and attendance records since the production's July 23 premiere at the Cambridge, MA theatre. A.R.T. executives announced that the show has become the "highest grossing and highest attended production to date."