Commentary: 'Rainbow' makes a welcome arc from 'Encores!' series to Broadway

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NEW YORK -- Next to the positive impression made by the new "Hair" at the Al Hirschfeld -- the reaction has been very warm in very chilly Manhattan -- the strongest word-of-mouth wafting through the city centers is for the recent "Encores!" resurrection of "Finian's Rainbow," which played to sold-out houses during its too-brief City Center run of four days and five performances.

Even with a shoehorn, it was virtually impossible to get a seat; those who did are still raving. Small wonder then that "Rainbow," with its Burton Lane-E.Y. Harburg songs, will make a move to Broadway in the fall -- with, if things go according to plan, the same basic cast attached.

The travel route from "Encores!" to Broadway did wonders for Kander & Ebb's "Chicago," which started on the City Center stage in 1996 before moving to the Main Stem. It's still in business after 12 years (13 in November), having started at the Richard Rodgers, then moving to the Shubert and now ensconced at the Ambassador.
   

"Finian's Rainbow"
The "Rainbow" success further whets the appetite for the next "Encores!" go-rounds: Gershwin's "Girl Crazy," from Nov. 19-22; Harold Rome's "Fanny," from Feb. 4-7; and Stephen Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle," from April 8-11.

Footnote: The aforementioned "Fanny" will be the 50th "Encores!" production since the series began in 1994. Who knew it would become such a dynamic part of New York theater life? The memories many of its productions have left behind are irreplaceable.

Italian double feature?

With Sophia Loren already re-emerging on the screen this year in "Nine" with co-star Daniel Day-Lewis, we might be lucky enough to get a double Italian whammy.

Director Mike Hodges has been in talks with Gina Lollobrigida to return to the screen in his and Mike Kaplan's film version of Thomas Mann's "Mario and the Magician," which is aiming for a September start date.

The woman affectionately known as La Lollo would play Signora Angliolien in the mesmerizing Mann story, which has a fascinating background: "Mario" was optioned as far back as 1950 by writer-director Abraham Polonsky, but the project was zapped when he ran afoul of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted.
   

"Nine"
After that dark cloud passed, plans began churning again, this time with Kaplan producing and Malcolm McDowell scheduled to play the Magician. The Reader's Digest version: More problems arose, Kaplan became involved in other projects (including the classy "The Whales of August"), and Polonsky died.

Now it's back on a front burner, with Kaplan producing, Hodges directing and a cast that includes Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Diane Kruger, Sebastian Koch ("The Lives of Others"), McDowell and now, possibly, Lollobrigida.

A poignant note: Because of Polonsky's long struggle to get Mann's story to the big screen, Kaplan and Hodges plan to label their project "A Mike Hodges-Abraham Polonsky Film."

On the docket

Tuesday brings the start of Barbara Cook's run at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. The next day, the new Tom Kitt-Brian Yorkey musical "Next to Normal," directed by Michael Greif, begins its Broadway stay at the Booth.

On April 16, the revival of August Wilson's 1987 "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," directed by Bartlett Sher, opens at the Belasco.

The following week, there are two more major debuts: Peter Oswald's new version of Friedrich Schiller's 1800 play "Mary Stuart," directed by Phyllida Lloyd and toplining Janet McTeer and Brian Murray, on April 19 at the Broadhurst; and London's Old Vic production of Alan Ayckbourn's three full-length plays -- "Table Manners," "Living Together" and "Round and Round the Garden" known by the umbrella title "The Norman Conquests" -- begins its 2009 visit to Broadway on April 23 at the Circle in the Square.

Waiting in the wings: Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane (in separate shows this time), David Hyde Pierce, Bill Irwin, two Johns (Goodman and Glover) and Brian Dennehy.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host and anchor of Turner Classic Movies.
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