NOISES OFF-BROADWAY & BEYOND: Have You Met Ms. Jones? and Cynthia Nixon Remembers When | Playbill

News NOISES OFF-BROADWAY & BEYOND: Have You Met Ms. Jones? and Cynthia Nixon Remembers When writer Harry Haun provides the latest insight into the buzz Off-Broadway and beyond.
Shirley Jones
Shirley Jones Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN


MY MOTHER, MY SELF: Marian the Librarian of the movies, Shirley Jones, kicks off a tour of the hinterlands Sept. 18 when The Music Man in Concert gets rolling in, aptly enough, Mason City, IA (Meredith Willson's hometown and the model for his River City). She has turned in her library card and will play Marian's mom, Mrs. Paroo. Her real-life son, Patrick Cassidy, has the title role, a role he was born to play.

Three months into the filming of "The Music Man," Ms. Jones discovered she was pregnant with Patrick and told only the director, Morton Da Costa, who advised her to keep it a secret and he'd camouflaged her condition with crinoline and corsets. No one was the wiser till the footbridge song ("Till There Was You"). "There we were," she recalled, "Bob Preston and I, our arms around each other, holding ourselves tight, getting ready for the big kiss — then, all of a sudden, Bob opened his eyes and stepped back and said, 'What the heck was that?' Patrick had made his entrance."

Talk about an early calling! "Years later," she said, "Patrick and Preston crossed paths at a New York benefit. Patrick knocked on his dressing room door and said, 'Mr. Preston, I'm so excited, so happy, to meet you. My name is Patrick Cassidy.' With that, Bob stepped back and said, 'I know, I know. I believe we've already met.'"

NIXON'S NIXON: Locally, another daughter is turning into her own mother. When the Broadway curtain rises a third time on Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing Oct. 30, that'll be Cynthia Nixon in Christine Baranski's Tony-winning role. Thirty years ago, when The Real Thing first passed by, she played Baranski's 17-year-old daughter. "It seems odd, but it's fine," Nixon giggled, shrugging off a c'est la vie. "That's what happens in life. You're a kid, then you're a mother and eventually the grandmother." How did Stoppard feel about her taking on this new role? "Fatherly," he quipped.

MAKE A NOTE OF ROTA: The New York Philharmonic — which regularly raids Broadway and does quick runs of Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel and Carousel with Kelli O'Hara and Nathan Gunn — is having a cinematic siege. The first half of "The Art of the Score: Film Week at the Philharmonic" leads off Sept. 16-17 with "La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema," conducted by Alan Gilbert and featuring violinist Joshua Bell, singer Josh Groban and soprano Renee Fleming.

<i>My Mañana Comes</i> star Brian Quijada
My Mañana Comes star Brian Quijada Photo by Matthew Murphy

Nino Rota's bracing, bubbly score for "La Dolce Vita" and other Fellinis (Juliet of the Spirits and Amarcord) will occupy the center ring, flanked by music from his countrymen for "Cinema Paradiso," "Rocco and His Brothers" and "Life Is Beautiful."

Charles Chaplin, 125, will rate a salute Sept. 19-20 as the Philharmonic underscores his full century as The Little Tramp, from the character's origin in a 1914 short called "Kid Auto Races at Venice" to his last Tramp outing, "Modern Times."

Conductor Timothy Brock composed music for the short and reconstructed the score Chaplin wrote with the help of Alfred Newman for "Modern Times." Its highlight is a little something Chaplin dashed off on his own called "Smile."

Composer Chaplin leaned toward the sweet and soaring, but it was this profession that won him his only competitive Oscar: His 1952 score for "Limelight" won the award in 1972, when the film was first shown in L.A. and made eligible for awards.

TWO SISTERS SIGN IN: That ever-growing sorority of American playwrights just acquired a couple of conspicuously promising recruits this month, with the Off-Broadway debuts of Ruby Rae Spiegel, a 21-year-old Yale senior, and Elizabeth Irwin, a WASP from Worcester. Critics greeted them both with palm leaves. Spiegel's Dry Land, which plays through Sept. 27 at HERE, takes place in a girls' high school locker room where two friends of the swim team plot a do-it-yourself abortion. Irwin's My Manana Comes, running till Sept. 20 at Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, is set in the cramped, chaotic kitchen of an Upper East Side eatery where four young busboys work hard for the money and still come up short.

<i>Dry Land</i> stars Sarah Mezzanotte, Tina Ivlev and Jim Ireland
Dry Land stars Sarah Mezzanotte, Tina Ivlev and Jim Ireland Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Dry Land was scared out of Spiegel, she said, by the fear of pregnancy and an article on DIY abortions in the New Republic. Irwin, who has a history of restaurant work, drew on-the-job training and her own observations behind those swinging doors.

"In recent years," Irwin said, "I noticed when people started talking about immigration, the people who always got to talk about it were lawmakers and congressmen and politicos, but it's not actually affecting their lives directly. I remember back to when I was working in restaurants that the people it actually had an effect on were the immigrants and native-born Americans who work the kitchen.

"The difference between a weekly subway pass and a monthly subway pass takes on a heavier weight when you are of the working class. All the little things are much larger stressers when you're in this tight situation. That's really what working class life is like. What you find out a lot of time is that it costs a lot of money to be poor."

In addition to an empathetic drama, the play works as a 90-minute crash course in how to prepare lemon wedges and fold napkins and wrap silverware. The four workers are whirling tops of such activity, and it's pretty much nonstop. Chay Yew choreographed as much as directed this play, creating bits of business that goes with the territory. "It just came out like that," he said. "The rhythm of the play dictated it.

"This is a bunch of people who are never given a voice in the city — people who are invisible — people who touch your food and serve it, yet you don't notice or know anything about them. Hopefully, this play will give them voice and visibility so that the next time you get on the N train or the R train, you'll see the person sitting across from you just a little bit differently because you realize that they could be the people in this play. That's why it's an important play that Elizabeth has written." Pulitzer Prizes have been passed out for less. PRIZE BAKER: The 2014 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2013 winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Annie Baker's The Flick, hits bookstores this month, courtesy of Theatre Communications Group (TCG).

Phyllis Newman
Phyllis Newman Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

A play of few words and many pauses, it depicts the numbing drudgery that three underpaid ushers dispiritedly go through at a rundown movie palace in Worcester, MA. Again it's possible to pick up tricks of a dead-end trade — sweeping up popcorn, mopping up spilled soda and tending to one of the last 35mm projectors in the state — but, unlike the 78rpm merry-go-round of My Manana Comes, The Flick is in slo-mo and lasts three hours. In published form, that's 177 well-spaced pages.

GOING, GOING GREEN: Funny how a widow can let her husband's 100th birthday slip up on her, but Phyllis Newman (a.k.a. Mrs. Adolph Green and keeper of the Green flame) pleads guilty as charged. "I was worried about his centennial because you know how I organize things — like those Nothing Like a Dame benefits — but I just couldn't get my head around it this time — then, suddenly, all of this happened."

Four shows with lyrics by Green and his lifelong professional partner, Betty Comden, have magically surfaced on the immediate theatrical horizon. Two of these will be side-by-side neighbors on 42nd Street: 1944's On the Town, bowing Oct. 16 at the Lyric Theatre with Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves, and 1978's On the Twentieth Century, pulling in next door this spring (March 12) at the American Airlines Theatre with Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher.

Then, for ten days in November (6-16) at New York City Center, Encores! will be trotting out, and seriously trying out, The Band Wagon, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall and adapted by Douglas Carter Beane from Comden and Green's original story and screenplay of 1953. Brian Stokes Mitchell will star.

On Dec. 4, two days after Green's actual 100th birthday, NBC will do a live telecast of Peter Pan with Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, Kelli O'Hara as Mrs. Darling, Christian Borle as Mr. Darling (and Smee) and Allison Williams in the title role. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have invited Green's daughter, Amanda (herself a Tony-nominated lyricist), to come up with some new lyrics for melodies taken from the trunks of the show's two composers, Moose Charlap and Jule Styne.

"It's as if Adolph were orchestrating all of this," said Newman. "How could I have organized it? I was thinking like a little concert. Now, 54 Below is doing something." The super-popular supper club will be "Celebrating Adolph Green" for three days with an impressive galaxy of rotating stars Thursday, Sept. 25 (Sondra Lee, Carole J. Bufford, Penny Fuller, Hunter Ryan Hendicka, Amy Spanger, Robert Creighton, Natascia Diaz, Howard McGillin, Ed Dixon, KT Sullivan, Tari Kelly, T. Oliver Reid, Klea Blackhurst); Friday, Sept. 26 (Yazbeck, Johnson, Bufford, Blackhurst, John Ranbo, Jessica Phillips, Karen Akers, Lee Roy Reams, Tari Kelly), and Saturday, Sept. 26 (Dixon, Blackhurst, Kelly, Len Cariou, George Lee Anderson, Melanie Vaughan, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Helene Yorke, Eric Michael Gillette). It's a helluvah town, right?

FIDDLER ON A HOT TIN ROOF: During Film Forum's 11-day, 14-film retrospective on Tennessee Williams (Sept. 26-Oct. 6), The New Yorker's senior drama critic, John Lahr, will introduce the 8 PM showings of films based on Williams' two Pulitzer-Prize winning plays: A Streetcar Named Desire Sept. 26, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Oct 6.

The revival program was prompted by Lahr's epic biography of the playwright, "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh," which Norton will publish Sept. 22.

Sept. 22 is also the 50th anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof's arrival on Broadway, and that will be celebrated at the Upper East Side Barnes and Noble (150 East 86th St.) with a free public book launch for Barbara Isenberg's "Tradition! The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof."

Isenberg will moderate a discussion with Broadway's original Motel and Tzeitel (Austin Pendleton and Joanna Merlin) and a road-company Motel (Jerry Zaks).

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