Film star Toni Collette, hot from her role as the shaken mother in the feature film, "The Sixth Sense," and an audience favorite for 1994's "Muriel's Wedding," will play the seductive Queenie in Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's musical retelling of The Wild Party, opening April 6, 2000, at the Virginia Theatre. It will be Collette's New York stage debut.
The casting was announced Oct. 14. Also confirmed to sing and play characters based on Joseph Moncure March's scandalous 1928 poem are the previously-mentioned Mandy Patinkin (as Burrs, Queenie's brutal love interest) and Eartha Kitt (as Dolores). Vanessa Williams had been mentioned earlier, but she had other commitments and will not be part of the world premiere musical, which begins previews in March 2000.
Kitt will play Dolores, a character March describes as weeping and wailing (and having scarlet nails) in his verse tale of a boozy Jazz Age party. It will be Kitt's first major appearance on Broadway since 1978, when she starred in Timbuktu! (and was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award). Her first splash on a New York stage came in New Faces of 1952 (although she had previously danced in the revue, Blue Holiday). She memorably played Catwoman on the 1960s TV series, "Batman," and has released a number of recordings, including "Back in Business" and "Eartha Kitt, Greatest Hits." One of her signature songs, from New Faces, is "Monotonous." She is known around the world for her purring, ravenous vocal technique.
Patinkin, who'll play the brutal vaudevillian, Burrs, is the vocal powerhouse who played Che in Evita on Broadway and originated the roles of George in Sunday in the Park With George and Uncle Archie in The Secret Garden. He has performed frequently at The Public Theater and has a number of recordings on store shelves ("Experiment," "Dress Casual," among them). Last season he sang Yiddish favorites in the Broadway concert, Mamaloshen. He is currently seen as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on CBS' Chicago Hope.
Additional casting for The Wild Party has not been announced. The Australian native Collette is remembered by moviegoers for the title role in "Muriel's Wedding," in which she played a chunky outsider (and ABBA fan) who stumbles into an arranged marriage with a gorgeous sports figure.
She earned a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination for the 1994 film role. She also appeared in "Velvet Goldmine," "Emma" and "The Boys." She is currently shooting "Shaft."
Collette has appeared on stage with the Belvoir Street Theater and the Sydney Theater Company.
Composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again and Lincoln Center's dawning Marie Christine) and librettist George C. Wolfe (Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk) co-authored the new musical, which will be directed by Wolfe. Joey McKneely (The Life) is choreographing.
Producers are The New York Shakespeare Festival/Joseph Papp Public Theater (George C. Wolfe, producer) and Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Elizabeth Williams and Anita Waxman.
Smokey Joe's Cafe is the current tenant of the Virginia. It closes in January 2000.
The musical adaptation of the infamous 1928 narrative poem, "The Wild Party," by Joseph Moncure March, will chronicle the booze-soaked antics at a debauched Jazz Age party populated by showfolk, underworld figures and slumming playboys.
Still on board, as previously announced, are scenic designer Robin Wagner (The Life, City of Angels, Angels in America), lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Ragtime) and costume designer Toni-Leslie James (Footloose, Jelly's Last Jam, Angels in America).
It's a busy season for producers Berlind and Rudin. Berlind will also handle Kiss Me, Kate (with Roger Horchow) in October 1999, plus (with Rudin, Dodger Theatricals and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts) Stephen Sondheim's Wise Guys, also expected for Broadway in spring 2000.
The Public hosted a workshop of its version of the March verse story Feb. 15-25, 1999. The cast included Vanessa Williams, Mandy Patinkin, Eartha Kitt, Keith David (Jelly's Last Jam), Debbie Shapiro Gravitte (Jerome Robbins' Broadway), Jane Summerhays (Lend Me a Tenor, Me and My Girl) and an ensemble of nine.
Choreographer McKneely was also present during the workshop, which culminated in a Feb. 26, 1999 reading.
A full Public production of the work, with a libretto and direction by George C. Wolfe, was previously planned for February 1999, but due to artists' schedules, was bumped to the 1999-2000 season.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Theatre Club has confirmed it will stage another world-premiere musical version of The Wild Party, by composer lyricist-librettist Andrew Lippa, beginning Jan. 25, 2000. Official opening is Feb. 22, 2000.
Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel (former Rent-ers) and Julia K. Murney are in the cast. Gabriel Barre will direct and Mark Dendy will choreograph.
A softbound edition of the poem has been re-released by Pantheon under the title "The Wild Party: The Lost Classic." Illustrations and an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman ("Maus") accompany the poem in the new edition.