PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Match's Frank Langella Chex It Out

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Match's Frank Langella Chex It Out
Sparing no expense, the producers of Match made sure a large economy-size box of Rice Chex adorned each table at the Metronome
From Top: Frank Langella (left), Jane Adams, and Ray Liotta, John C. Reilly, Chita Rivera, Stephen Schwartz (right) and son Scott, Renee Fleming, Nicholas Martin (left), Michael Ritchie, and Kate Burton, Chase Mishkin, Ben Shenkman and Anne Jeffreys
From Top: Frank Langella (left), Jane Adams, and Ray Liotta, John C. Reilly, Chita Rivera, Stephen Schwartz (right) and son Scott, Renee Fleming, Nicholas Martin (left), Michael Ritchie, and Kate Burton, Chase Mishkin, Ben Shenkman and Anne Jeffreys Photo by Aubrey Reuben

It was there—not exactly in the neighborhood—that the play was celebrated, 24 blocks downtown from the Plymouth Theatre, where it had opened April 8.

The cereal was supplied by George Fenmore, the best prop-procurer in the business. "This was a last-minute request from the producers, and I was working on it into today—36 hours in all—but I came through," Fenmore said, beaming with pride.

Fenmore performed essentially the same service for Stephen Belber's play—Rice Chex is the emergency snack star Frank Langella extends to his guests (a young couple, played by Ray Liotta and Jane Adams) who have come to interview him. But Fenmore wants the world in general, and Frito-Lay in particular, to know that he had nothing to do with the stale chips Langella dumped in favor of the Rice Chex. "The product has to be presented in a positive light," he said. "If it wasn't, they would never have anything to do with me."

The gist of the play is not about the horrors of hosting and how an enterprising mind can triumph over unappetizing party favors, but, even if it was, that would not have been the reason Martha Stewart attended. She's a long-standing friend of Langella's, and it was thought she'd show. But her day at Yankee Stadium got in the way, and she didn't.

Instead, on Langella's arm at the party, was another old friend, Renee Fleming. "I have my own name for this show—I called it Frank Unleashed," she trilled happily. "This is the sort of role he can really go to town with. It uses all his colors. I think he is just plain brilliant." Langella passes his credit on to his director, Nicholas Martin, and to the real-life choreographer used to create Langella's character. "It's a little intimidating to play someone who is still alive," Langella admitted. "I don't think that's ever happened to me before. We met a couple of times. We talked, he knitted. He's here tonight, in a very colorful sweater he knitted himself. He's a wonderful guy, and I hope I do justice to him."

"The man in the colorful sweater," as he was known by the press in pursuit—Alphonse Poulin—systematically started itemizing the ways he was like that character on the stage, though he never ventured beyond "I knit. I teach. I'm gay." He and author Belber crossed paths because Mrs. Belber was one of the teacher's pets at Juilliard, and a play took off in Belber's head. Nothing that follows in the play after those three mentioned givens happened, Poulin said.

"I'm branching out—my next play will have five characters," quipped Belber. "For me, that's really spreading out now. I hope to have that one done next season. It doesn't matter where—Broadway, Off-Broadway, I'm not at all picky these days. And I've done other plays that haven't been produced. Most had more than three characters in them."

The last time Langella and Adams were on Broadway, they won Tony Awards—he was supporting the late Alan Bates in 2002's Fortune's Fool, and she was supporting Rosemary Harris and Philip Bosco in 1994's An Inspector Calls. The third cast member has never been on Broadway before.

"I was the first person attached to this project," claimed Liotta. "Broadway is something I've always wanted to do. I've had offers before, but the scheduling would be off or I wouldn't be right for it. This time, everything came together. Not to say it was easy. We had to replace a cast member ten days before previews started. That was tough—you're used to lines done a certain way, and then you don't have that anymore—but it worked out well."

The glamorous guests ran quite a generational gamut, from the original Kiss Me Kate's Anne Jeffreys to "The Sopranos"' Edie Falco. The latter attended out of double loyalty: 1) The show's lead producers, The Araca Group, produced the revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune she and Stanley Tucci did last season; and 2) author Belber was director Michael Mayer's assistant when her Tony-winning Side Man first saw the light of stage at New York Stage & Film at Vassar. That last little fact accounted for the presence of producer Jay Harris and wife Fredda and actor Kevin Geer, who played one of the tragic jazzmen.

Jeffreys, hair up and elegantly turned out, was a vision who stepped out of another era, someone who still knew how to dress for a Broadway opening. Friends in the cast? she was asked. "My friend," she fine-tuned, "is a producer who hired the cast. I just came in for the opening, and I'm returning to Los Angeles in the morning. I wanted to be here."

Her husband, Robert Sterling, has been bedridden for some time, and that fact sharply limits her travels. But she loves New York, she said, and, while here she looked up June Springer, widow of publicist John Springer, and other chorines from the original cast of Kiss Me Kate. She says she's not through acting. "Make me an offer."

Some of the stars at the opening didn't make the long trek downtown from the theatre. Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, for two. And Rosie O'Donnell's conductor, John McDaniel. It was unsettling enough for him to be at the Plymouth "so soon after Taboo." He, and others, feel that the show didn't get a fair shake. "It got criticism that it didn't deserved. We're proud of it."

Other play-goers who didn't make it to party-goers: Tommy Tune, Regis and Joy Philbin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Mandy Moore, Andrea Martin, model Juan Manuel, Frances Sternhagen, Natasha Lyonne, Krya Sedgwick, Angus McIndoe, Louis Zorich, Bebe Neuwirth and Rosie Perez.

Attending both events were Tony winners Jim Dale and Chita Rivera, Tony nominee (and now nominator) David Marshall Grant, Skip Sudduth and Bobby Cannavale.

Several working actors showed up for the late-night reveling, among them Proof's Ben Shenkman (soon to be seen in Sight Unseen), John C. Reilly (who's currently filming but has hopes of returning to Broadway, maybe in and as Marty) and Melanie Brown (a.k.a. Scary Spice, who is uncontainably bullish about going to Broadway, in Rent). Eve Ensler, the author-actress who launched The Vagina Monologues, says she has now progressed to The Good Body, a new one-person show which she is about to test out in Seattle. "It's about how we feel about our bodies, how that feeling helps or inhibits us." Long-time-no-see Kate Burton said it will be even longer. She's heading west because her husband, Michael Ritchie, has taken over the top spot at L.A.'s Ahmanson. "I'm getting ready to do my last two plays at Williamstown—a new play and Midsummer Night's Dream," she said wistfully. Ritchie rules the Williamstown roost through this summer only.

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