Odd as it seems, the latest historical entertainment figure to become part of the theatre zeitgeist is: Tallulah Bankhead. An actress/comedienne with a long list of film, radio and theatre credits, Bankhead was the subject of a Kathleen Turner solo at the 1997 Chichester Festival this summer. Titled Tallulah!, the piece was penned by Sandra Ryan Heyward.
Now comes word of a revival of the musical, Tallulah, to be staged this winter at the club Ibis in midtown Manhattan. Producer Richmond Shepard told Playbill On-Line (Oct. 23) he's targeting January for rehearsals and end-of-February for an opening at the West 44th St. Venue, former home of The Magic Carpet Revue.
Tovah Feldshuh will star in the show, which is having a backer's reading Oct. 23 in midtown Manhattan. Feldshuh's previous credits include Sarava! and Off-Broadway's Tovah! Out Of Her Mind. She was nominated for a Tony for Yentl and has sung at the Algonquin Oak Room. At tonight's reading, Feldshuh will be joined only by musical director/arranger Doug Katsaros on piano and Morgan Sills (who won't be in the show).
The musical, with book by Arthur Siegel and lyrics by Mae Richard, was staged in 1983 at the West Side Arts Center. Helen Gallagher starred, alongside Russell Nype and Joel Craig.
In the new staging, Feldshuh will have four ensemble co-stars, plus a new book, by Bob Griffiths. Asked why he wasn't using the original libretto by Tony Lang, producer Shepard said, "We wanted a different book, with more emotional depth." Latifah Taormina will direct the show. Describing Tallulah, Shepard said, "It's a musical based on the fables and foibles of the fabulous Ms. Bankhead." Shepard also offers a sample of her humor: "Bankhead was a gravel-voiced actress comedienne, and one day a man walked up to her and said, `Are you ever mistaken for a man?' She answered, `Are you?'."
Tallulah is budgeted at $200,000. "We have enough to open," said Shepard, "though not the whole two hundred, so we're still looking for investors." The show is planned as an open run.
Songs in Tallulah include "The Right Man Will Ask Me To Dance," "Stay Awhile," and "A Lift."
The real Ms. Bankhead made her Broadway debut in Squab Farm and appeared in such shows as Something Gay, The Little Foxes, Dark Victory and a revival of Private Lives.
--By David Lefkowitz