A Date With Destiny
Heather Graham makes her New York stage debut in the play Recent Tragic Events. It’s a comedy. Really.
‘When I tell people that I’m doing this play called Recent Tragic Events, I guess it sounds really sad, but it’s funny! But maybe this sounds even worse: ‘A play about September 11 that’s funny’—doesn’t that sound horrible?”
Heather Graham is still deciding how to describe the play, but she knows she loves it. Craig Wright’s play about a blind date that takes place on September 12, 2001, in Minneapolis drew critical acclaim and was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Best Original Play during its Washington, D.C., run (with another actress in the lead role), and when it begins previews September 5 at Playwrights Horizons, it will have done what no script until now has managed to do—lure Graham onto the New York stage.
Graham says she just had to play Waverly Wilson, the midwestern ad executive with a twin sister in New York and a “book guy” blind date in her apartment: “My friends read it and they were just like, ‘Jesus! It’s like this part was written for you!’ The way she talks is very similar to the way that I talk.” And that way is? “She changes subjects really fast. I non-sequitur from one thing to another and people will be like, ‘Whoa! Where’d you get that from?’ Waverly’s trying to make everything all right, but she’s anxious underneath.”
The subject matter hits as close to home for her as the character’s voice. Graham was flying into New York the morning of September 11 to move into her new downtown apartment. “We passed by the World Trade Center and one building had smoke coming out of it, and my friend and I were like, ‘What is that?’ ”
Such coincidences are a major component of Recent Tragic Events. Waverly and her date discover they have virtually the same book collection. Her date’s favorite author, Joyce Carol Oates, is related to Waverly, and Oates’s flight happens to be diverted to Minneapolis, where she drops in on the couple for drinking games and a discussion about free will. (In one instance of the play’s “avant-garde stuff,” as Graham describes it, Oates is played by a sock puppet.)
Although she still has her house in L.A., Graham will be spending the play’s run at her New York pied-à-terre, indulging in a certain amount of civic pride: “People from New York are so much more loyal and behind their city. People in L.A. are so used to L.A. being trashed that they’re just like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah … ’ With L.A., you have to learn the secret little pockets that are cool. New York, you just walk down the street and it’s pretty obvious.” —A.C.
• Details: Recent Tragic Events, Playwrights Horizons (September 28).
Best of The Rest
Berkshire Village Idiot Barry Edelstein directs Michael Connor’s solo play about growing up in a small Massachusetts town. In previews for a September 7 opening. (Zipper Theatre; 212-239-6200.)
After a move to New York— and a few really strange singing classes—Hugh Jackman has morphed into showman (and Minnelli ex) Peter Allen.
‘I have to bring out the showman in me.” Hugh Jackman, the dashing object of New York’s latest collective crush, is speaking of his current challenge: making his Broadway debut in The Boy From Oz (previews start September 16), a musical about his hero and fellow Australian Peter Allen—the consummate performer best-known for songs like “I Go to Rio,” over-the-top stage shows, and his brief marriage to Liza Minnelli (Judy fixed them up). Allen died of aids in 1992 at the age of 48 but remains an icon in Australia and a beloved of the New York theater world.
Although this will be Jackman’s first show on the Great White Way, he’s already a Broadway darling, thanks to his charming turn as host of this year’s Tony Awards at Radio City. “It felt like a party for me,” he says. He was even given Peter Allen’s old dressing room (although he spent most of his backstage time next door having “a good natter and a chat” with Billy Joel).
Jackman is keeping his place in Melbourne for vacations, but he’s ecstatic about his recent move to New York with his wife, the Australian actress-filmmaker Deborra-Lee Furness, and their 3-year-old son, Oscar Maximillian. Jackman is particularly relieved to finally be settled here, since Furness has always called the city her home, even though she lived here for just five years quite some time ago.
Perhaps the only thing Jackman has found New York lacking in is reverence for Allen, who is practically a saint Down Under: “His songs are like our national anthems. If you ask an Australian his favorite songs, three of their top five will be Peter Allen songs. He was someone who loved life and lived every moment to the full and laughed and was tough as well, and Australians loved him. Even if they were homophobic, they loved Peter.”
Jackman has been so intimidated by the thought of living up to this legacy that he’s been going above and beyond to prepare for the part. When he was in Prague recently, filming Van Helsing, the new monster movie from Mummy writer-director Stephen Sommers, which comes out next May, Jackman sought out the renowned opera singer Ivan Kusjner for lessons. “I went in and sang for him, and he didn’t smile, and at the end of the first hour he said, ‘Yes, you can come back next week.’ I realized I was being auditioned.” Jackman’s weeks of training with the vocal master were no less stressful. One day, when he asked Kusjner about proper breathing, the burly teacher suddenly took his shirt off. “And he said, ‘Put your hands on my belly!’ It was an experience, that’s for sure.” It was also, in an odd sort of way, preparation for the intimate moments he shares onstage with much- envied actor Jarrod Emick, who plays Allen’s longtime boyfriend, Greg.
Jackman will be using the breathing techniques Kusjner imparted to sell the hell out of Allen’s songs, particularly his favorite, “Tenterfield Saddler,” which he calls “as close to an autobiography as you can get in song.” And with Allen’s reputation for pulling every theatrical trick in the book (up to and including livestock onstage), Oz promises to be a tour de force of acrobatic piano playing, high kicks, and showgirls.
“No camels,” says Jackman of the desert creature Allen once brought to Radio City, “but there’s a lot of Hawaiian shirts and maracas, I’ll tell you that.” —Ada Calhoun
• Details: The Boy From Oz, Imperial (October 16).
Hairspray’s Kerry Butler leaves behind integrationist Penny Pingleton to become Little Shop’s sexy ditz.
Butler’s basically playing Audrey as an older version of Penny. “The two roles have a surprising amount in common,” she says—both have single mothers, for example. “I just have to cross the street and be a few years older, with more life experience, and talk in a Brooklyn accent.”
That should be no trouble for Butler, who grew up in Bensonhurst. “I’ve been trying all my life to get rid of my Brooklyn accent,” she says, “and now I have to remember what it sounded like!” —A.C.
• Details: Little Shop of Horrors, Virginia Theatre (October 2).
Just how hot is the Classical Theater of Harlem? It persuaded Broadway star André De Shields to step off the Great White Way.
What’s a big Broadway star like André De Shields, known for his charismatic musical-theater performances, doing in a tiny Off Broadway theater playing a drunk? Well, for one thing, he wanted to work with the Classical Theater of Harlem, a company that has the youngest, most diverse audiences in town, takes nontraditional casting to a new level, and is putting on rarely performed but remarkably powerful work, like last season’s hit revival of Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show. It was also hard for him to turn down the theater’s co-founders—Alfred Preisser and Christopher McElroen—who De Shields says “slathered me with flattery and danced around me like I was a cobra in a basket.”
De Shields appeared in the original companies of shows like The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and The Full Monty, but he says he’s always longed to play a monstre sacré like Makak, the lead role in Derek Walcott’s magical- realist drama Dream on Monkey Mountain, which he takes on starting October 1.
Makak, says Preisser, is “a very poor person, a nobody who sells charcoal in a market and gets drunk on the proceeds.” But one day, he dreams he is a messiah, and in his dream, he travels back to Africa and puts the entire world on trial for what it’s done to him. Written in 1967, Dream on Monkey Mountain has everything to do, De Shields says, with the black diaspora and the idea that, even now, African-Americans remain “strangers in a strange land.” The questions central to the play are, he says, “ ‘Why was I born?’ ‘Where did I come from?’ ‘Where am I going?’ and ‘Why do I suffer?’ ” All of which De Shields says any black actor working in the theater asks himself daily.
“In the corporate world, they talk about the glass ceiling,” says De Shields, “but in the theatrical world, that ceiling is made of concrete.” —A.C.
• Details: Dream on Monkey Mountain, Classical Theater of Harlem (October 2).
The inimitable Tovah Feldshuh on the role of her life: Golda Meir.
Tovah Feldshuh has played Tallulah Bankhead, Diana Vreeland, Sarah Bernhardt, and Katharine Hepburn, along with three queens of Henry VIII, but she says the role of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony, which starts previews October 3, is the greatest role of her career: “It’s as if my whole life as an actress and as a mother, and as a wife, and as a human being, or, as we would say, a mensch, has led to this moment. From Golda Meir, I’m learning true humility … I’m just one speck of dust in one speck of dust next to the Gourmet Garage and across from the Japanese supermarket down in Soho, and now that little speck of dust is moving to the smallest stage on Broadway flanked by The Producers and Sardi’s and I couldn’t be happier—as an American, as a New Yorker, as a Jew. I’m just a happy girl. I have found shalom. Before it means peace, it means integrity … I am at one.” —A.C.
• Details: Golda’s Balcony, Helen Hayes (opens October 15).
Best of The Rest
The Retreat From Moscow John Lithgow, Eileen Atkins, and Ben Chaplin star in William Nicholson’s play about a marriage that ends abruptly, devastating the couple’s son. In previews starting October 2 for an October 23 opening. (Booth Theatre; 212-239-6200.)
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill star in Richard Alfieri’s new comedy about a Florida retiree and her gruff New York dance instructor. In previews starting October 7 for an October 29 opening. (Belasco Theatre; 212-239-6200.)
Wicked Political parody of The Wizard of Oz, told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch (played by Idina Menzel; Kristin Chenoweth is Glinda). Joel Grey also stars. In previews starting October 7 for an October 30 opening. (Gershwin Theatre; 212-307-4100.)
The Long Christmas Ride Home The Vineyard struck gold with puppets last season (Avenue Q), so why not try to repeat the trick? How I Learned to Drive’s Paula Vogel uses Basil Twist puppets in her new play. In previews starting October 9. (Vineyard Theatre; 212-353-0303.)
Rounding Third John Rando directs Richard Dresser’s new play about two very different coaches trying to run the same Little League team. In previews starting September 16 for an October 7 opening. (John Houseman; 212-239-6200.)
Strictly Academic A. R. Gurney’s new comedy tells the story of a theater’s sadistic artistic director and her unorthodox method of ensuring return crowds. In previews starting October 8 for an October 21 opening. (Primary Stages; 212-333-4052.)
Euan Morton is Boy George, who is Leigh Bowery. Got it?
‘Most of my stage work in Britain has been in deep, meaningful plays where people get raped by their fathers and things,” says Euan Morton, Taboo’s 25-year-old star. “So musical theater is new for me.” The hit West End musical about the London club scene of the eighties, which stars Morton as Boy George and, yes, Boy George as Leigh Bowery (the transgendered icon and muse of painter Lucien Freud), opens on Broadway November 13. Some changes will be made (by producer Rosie O’Donnell) for the American audience, but Morton is sure nothing of substance will be lost. “There’s just something so attractive about that period and those costumes,” he says. “It’s a fantasy world.”
As for Boy George, “well,” says Morton, “when Culture Club made it big, I was only 5—put that in so George feels ancient—and later, I was far too busy listening to the Carpenters and being suicidally depressed … But my mother is a huge Boy George fan.”
The physical resemblance is remarkable. “I’ve had people ask me to sign something,” says Morton. “And I’m thinking they’re asking me, Euan—and then they say, ‘I loved your first album.’” —A.C.
Details: Taboo, Plymouth Theatre (opens November 13).
A great American play slinks back onto Broadway.
Tennessee Williams, says Ned Beatty—who plays Big Daddy in the latest revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—“has been cut worse than Shakespeare.” Which is why director Anthony Page and his cast have culled from the writer’s many different versions what they feel should be the definitive script. “We called out to Tennessee—‘Come through, baby!’—to interpret what he wanted,” says Beatty. The play’s latest revival debuted with a lauded West End run starring Beatty as the red-necky but surprisingly tolerant patriarch. “Fairies landed on that production,” he says. Joining him are Ashley Judd, who will take over as Maggie the Cat, and Queens native Jason Patric as Brick, Maggie’s repressed homosexual husband. “I wanted to come to New York in a powerful way,” says Patric, who will be making his Broadway debut. Brick, whom Patric describes as “Williams’s Hamlet,” certainly qualifies. And the famously tortured Patric doesn’t seem nervous about taking on the role: Somehow, he says, “I don’t think the pent-up angst is going to be difficult for me.” —:A.C.
Details: Cat on a Hot Tin, Roof Music Box (November 2).
Take Me Out’s Tony-winning playwright, Richard Greenberg, steps out of the ballpark and takes on history, the nature of ambition—and fate.
It’s that time—“that wonderful New York hour when the evening’s about to reward you for the day … the violet light … ” So a character in Richard Greenberg’s poignant, funny new play explains the title of his novel and of the play itself: The Violet Hour. Walking through the city at sunset, past hundred-year-old buildings that seem on fire, can induce, Greenberg suggests, a kind of liminal experience: a feeling that the past and future are insinuating themselves into the present.
Greenberg (who won the Best Play Tony last year for Take Me Out) has an obsession with the experience of time, and not just because his rapid rise to national prominence—he’s had six plays produced in the last two years—has turned his own life into something of a blur. “I’ve always tried to make time real to myself,” he says, “and you can do that in a play more than in anything else.”
The Violet Hour, Greenberg points out, is set in 1919, “to give the sense of a cusp,” but anticipates the twenties, evoking what Greenberg describes as “a Fitzgerald-Hemingway-flapper world, with the Harlem Renaissance folded in.” All of these eras have meaning to Greenberg, but Fitzgerald in particular dominated his youth, so much so that Greenberg decided he wanted to go to Princeton when he read The Great Gatsby at the age of 12, and eventually did for just that reason.
The Violet Hour’s hero is an Ivy Leaguer, too. Robert Sean Leonard plays a young publisher who must choose between the unwieldy novel of his college friend and the autobiography of his lover, a Harlem singer played by Jasmine Guy. Early on, a machine in the office starts churning out books that haven’t been written yet, and suddenly the characters know their own fates. It sounds fantastical, but Greenberg is no fan of science fiction, and the conceit isn’t elaborated. “The people in the play just believe it quickly.”
But then they have to cope with the sudden realization that they are living in history—“Look at us, we’re period,” says Leonard’s character at one point. “These aren’t clothes we’re wearing—they’re costumes.” This raises questions, Greenberg says, like “If we could really have a vision of the consequences of all our actions, what would it do to ambition, to the urge to move at all?”
Forty-five-year-old Greenberg himself suffers from no such paralysis. Every time he starts a new play, he tells himself he’ll take a break when it’s finished, but he never does. “For the last two years,” says the time theorist, “I haven’t had an unobligated day.” —A.C.
Details: The Violet Hour, Biltmore Theatre (November 6).
Best of The Rest
Bobbi Boland Charlie’s Angel Farrah Fawcett makes her Broadway debut as a former beauty queen in Nancy Hasty’s drama set in Florida during the late sixties. In previews starting October 31 for a November 24 opening. (Cort Theatre; 212-239-6200.)
The Caretaker Patrick Stewart and Kyle MacLachlan star in Harold Pinter’s drama about how the arrival of a caretaker upsets a family’s delicate balance of power. In previews starting October 24 for a November 9 opening. (American Airlines Theatre; 212-719-9393.)
Henry IV Clearly the hot king this fall, with productions at both Lincoln Center and bam (September 30–October 4). Lincoln Center wins for star power, with Billy Crudup, Ethan Hawke, Audra McDonald, and Kevin Kline. In previews starting October 28 for a November 20 opening. (Vivian Beaumont; 212-239-6277.)
Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All Historical heartwarmer about 99 years in the life of a Confederate captain’s wife, played by Tony winner Ellen Burstyn. In previews starting October 31 for a November 17 opening. (Longacre Theatre; 212-239-6200.)
Bright Ideas Eric Coble’s satire about parents who really do kill to get their kids into the best school in town. In previews starting October 22 for a November 5 opening. (East Thirteenth Street Theatre; 212-279-4200.)
Fame on 42nd street Musical about those Performing Arts kids who are going to live forever. In previews starting October 7 for a November 11 opening. (Little Shubert Theatre; 212-239-6200.)
Where We’re Born The Rattlestick starts off its season with Lucy Thurber’s drama about a young woman trying to escape her alcoholic single mother and poor town. In previews starting November 11 for a November 17 opening. (Rattlestick; 212-868-4444.)
Best of The Rest
I Am My Own Wife Transferring from a smash run Off Broadway, Moises Kaufman’s one-man play tells the amazing true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who survived both the Nazis and the Communists. In previews starting November 11 for a December 3 opening. (Lyceum; 212-239-6200.)
Never Gonna Dance Spangly dance musical based on the 1936 Fred Astaire film Swing Time. Choreography by Jerry Mitchell. In previews starting October 27 for a December 4 opening. (Broadhurst Theatre; 212-239-6200.)
Nothing But The Truth American premiere of John Kani’s play about post-apartheid South Africa. In previews starting November 14 for a December 7 opening. (Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater; 212-239-6200.)
Aunt Dan and Lemon Wallace Shawn explores a romantic friendship between an adult and a child in a “political horror story” for the New Group (an Avenue Q producer). Opens in December. (Theatre Row; 212-239-6200.)
Rose’s Dilemma New play by Neil Simon, set in a Hamptons beach house. In previews starting November 20 for a December 9 opening. (MTC Stage I; 212-239-6200.)
Caroline, or Change Tony Kushner and Thoroughly Modern Millie’s Jeanine Tesori collaborate on a musical. George C. Wolfe directs. Fall dates to be announced. (Public Theater; 212-239-6200.)
Great Dames Take Broadway!
Three of our favorite living legends of New York theater return to the stage.
Mistress of Gryffindor and of all those ultra-British stage roles that call for both girlish charm and dripping sarcasm, Dame Maggie Smith has done a million movies and shows on the West End. And in her spare time. . .
Tonys: 1 win (Lettice and Lovage), 2 nominations (Private Lives and Night and Day).
First Broadway Role: Various parts in a musical revue called New Faces of 1956.
Best-Remembered Role: Lettice Douffet in Lettice and Lovage (1990).
Now: One of two women (the other played by Diane Wiest; Judi Dench did the part in London) who share revenge fantasies and discover their lives are interwoven more than they’d like (hint: a man’s involved) in David Hare’s funny-sad play The Breath of Life, a transfer from the West End. Opening late fall.
She stole the show as the flamboyant, blissfully clueless over-the-hill actress who precipitates disaster in last year’s Dinner at Eight. And in The Play About the Baby, she and Brian Murray stirred up a gale force of stage chemistry.
Tonys: 1 win (A Delicate Balance), 4 nominations (Father’s Day, Deathtrap, Ring Round the Moon, Dinner at Eight).
First Broadway Role: Attendant to Medea in Medea (1947).
Best-Remembered Role: Hester Salomon in Equus (1974–7).
Now: It’s a theater school fantasy: Seldes will be paired again (over and over) with Murray in a succession of roles in “Beckett/Albee,” an evening of short plays by Samuel and Edward. Maybe they’ll take requests? In previews 9/23; 10/9 opening. (Century Center; 212-239-6200.)
Proving it’s not necessarily time that makes one a legend, Donna Murphy made us cry in Steven Sondheim’s Passion, and then became one of our favorite things as Anna in The King and I. At last year’s Encores!, she killed with “One Hundred Ways,” the hilarious 1953 ballad about how hard it is to be a successful woman. (But don’t feel too sorry for her.)
Tonys: 2 wins (The King and I and Passion).
First Broadway Role: Voice of Sonia Walsk in They’re Playing Our Song (1979).
Best-Remembered Role: Anna in The King and I (opposite Lou Diamond Phillips; 1996).
Now: Star of the fun thirties Comden and Green musical (written with Leonard Bernstein) Wonderful Town, about, naturally, New York. Opening November 23. (Al Hirschfeld Theatre; 212 239-6200.)