PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 19-25: Casting Notes

ICYMI   PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 19-25: Casting Notes
The title of "Pulitzer Prize-winner" is working nicely for hitherto relatively obscure playwright Nilo Cruz. The upcoming East Coast premiere of his honored Anna in the Tropics will boast a cast headed by television star Jimmy Smits, Tony-winner Priscilla Lopez, Rent star Daphne Rubin-Vega and critical darling John Ortiz. That's a big change from the play's premiere at the New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, which didn't have Smits, Lopez, Rubin-Vega, Ortiz or anybody else New York casting agents might recognize.

There were other big names in the news this past week, a couple of them linked to the Roundabout Theatre Company (which added to its empire July 23 by procuring the old Studio 54 as its latest permanent playing space). Kyle MacLachlan, of film's "Blue Velvet" and television's "Twin Peaks," will star in the theatre's fall revival of Harold Pinter's tense three-hander, The Caretaker. He joins the already announced Patrick Stewart. Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin, who last acted on Broadway as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire a decade ago, has been reported to appear as the tyrannical Broadway producer in Hecht and MacArthur's Twentieth Century. The classic comedy, which hasn't been seen on Broadway in half a century, will replace the previously announced The Cherry Orchard in the Roundabout schedule.

Little Shop of Horrors' second, new-and-improved cast has no movie stars, but those actors that are in it were recently confirmed. The Broadway revival will star Kerry Butler of Hairspray as Audrey, Rob Bartlett and Mr. Mushnik and Douglas Sills (of The Scarlet Pimpernel, another musical that went through a few changes) as Orin the dentist. Hunter Foster, the only actor held over from recent Florida developmental run of this production in June, is Seymour. Also, Never Gonna Dance, the new Broadway musical that will bring Jerome Kern songs back to Broadway, drafted actors Peter Gerety, Deborah Leamy, Philip LeStrange and Ron Orbach, who'll join Noah Racey, Nancy Lemenager, Peter Bartlett and David Pittu in the cast.

Another belated talent confirmation was that of director David Leveaux, whose name has been connected to the coming Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof for half a year. Leveaux is responsible for the current hit production of Nine, which made a musical theatre star out of Antonio Banderas. Fiddler may do the same for Alfred Molina.

Bombay Dreams, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-embraced musical tribute to Bollywood and that Indian jazz, has no casting to announce, but it did finally find a New York home. The Broadway theatre—the former home of French composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's British musical Miss Saigon and Australian director Baz Luhrmann's rejiggering of Puccini's classic Italian opera—will take in its latest international hybrid. (Is there no American entertainment big enough to fill this huge house? Oh, wait, yes—Blast!. Forget I said anything.) Waxman Williams Entertainment produces the Broadway run. Lloyd Webber produced in the West End. Music is by A.R. Rahman.

One of the most unique entries in this or any Broadway season, Roundabout's Big River, opened on July 24. This co-production with Deaf West Theatre, in association with the Mark Taper Forum, is the American Sign Language adaptation of the musical and uses deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors. Songs and dialogue are both sung and signed with actors doubling as characters — one speaking and singing and one signing. A Tom Stoppard play which you'd expect to find on Broadway, Indian Ink, will instead receive its New York premiere at the hands of the one-year-old, Off-Off-Broadway company Alter Ego Productions. Stoppard created the work as a 1991 radio play, "In the Native State," and then fashioned it into a stage play. Since its 1995 London premiere, Indian Ink—about Indian-British relations over the 20th century—has been presented in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, but never could make it to New York. Alter Ego, a company comprised mainly of South Asian artists, will right this wrong beginning Aug. 15.

Playwright Edward Albee, actors Marian Seldes and Brian Murray, and producers Elizabeth McCann and Daryl Roth—the gang that brought Off Broadway The Play About the Baby in 2001—will return Sept. 23 to the Century Center for the Performing Arts with Beckett/Albee. The evening will consist of Albee's Counting the Ways and Beckett's Not I, Footfalls and A Piece of Monologue. The new man in the equation is, of course, Samuel Beckett. Albee and Beckett are not strangers, though. Albee's career-making first play, Zoo Story, was paired with Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1960. Since then, Albee has been a steadfast fan and supporter of his Irish colleague, routinely proclaiming Beckett as his favorite playwright (and perhaps the only writer by whom he would accept second billing).

One of the oddest pieces of stunt casting to come around in some time will be on display Aug. 15 at a benefit for the Provincetown Repertory Theatre, which is run by artistic director Norris Church Mailer, husband to combustible novelist Norman Mailer. The two will play James and Mary Tyrone, the fictionalized parents of Provincetown habitué Eugene O'Neill, in a performances of Long Day's Journey Into Night. Stephen Mailer will play Jamie, John Buffalo Mailer will be Edmund, and Kate Mailer will star as Cathleen. All have actually done some acting.

Finally, Elliot Norton, the last of the great regional reviewers who exercised considerable influence over the fare seen on Broadway during it golden years, died July 20 in Fort Lauderdale, FL. He was 100, and had reviewed every important Broadway-bound play or musical to try out in Boston from 1934 to 1982. Producers and playwrights read his reviews as if they were instruction manuals on how to fix their shows. Often, they sought out personal audiences with Norton, soliciting his advice, which the critic was happy to provide. Some of these showfolk ever professed to like Norton as a person! These days, theatre artists would just as soon consort with wild dogs as with a critic. And critics pompously boast of never interacting with anyone employed in the trade they review. A great victory for artistic and journalistic ethics and integrity, no doubt. But, in my view, no damn fun at all.

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