'Event' time upon us: 'Utopia,' more preems

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NEW YORK -- It is "event" time in Manhattan. Prevues begin Tuesday night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on one of the this year's most anticipated offerings: Part 1 of Tom Stoppard's massive trilogy, "The Coast of Utopia," with a cast including Billy Crudup, Ethan Hawke, Jennifer Ehle, Martha Plimpton, et al. ... Stoppard, officially now Sir Tom, will be royally saluted Nov. 13 in Manhattan at a gala at the Puck Building, a benefit for the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where many of Stoppard's plays have been produced. (Williamstown's artistic director, Roger Rees, also has ties to Sir Tom, having starred in the West End in two Stoppard plays, "The Real Thing" and "Hapgood.") Joanne Woodward is the honorary chair of the gala (she has directed four plays at Williamstown, and acted there as well) and her co-chairs include a celebrated group: Gwyneth Paltrow, Blythe Danner, Bebe Neuwirth, Kathleen Turner, Dana Ivey, Marge Champion, Ann Reinking, Jean Kennedy Smith and Connie Cincotta, all with strong Williamstown ties. Paltrow's Stoppard connection also includes "Shakespeare in Love," for which both were Oscared in 1998, she as best actress, Stoppard for his screenplay. ... Meanwhile, Wednesday brings the off-Broadway opening of "Southern Comforts," directed by Judith Ivey and featuring Penny Fuller and Larry Keith at the 59E59; on Thursday, prevues begin on Paul Rudnick's latest comedy, "Regrets Only," directed by Christopher Ashley, at the City Center; on Friday, the prevue process begins for the Roundabout's redo of Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" with Danner, directed by Mark Brokaw, at the Laura Pels. The musical "Spring Awakening," directed by Michael Mayer, started prevuing at Monday at the Eugene O'Neill. ... Thursday through Sunday, Tony winner Faith Prince will perform her cabaret act at the Metropolitan (solo, this time, sans Tom Wopat with whom she last appeared in town). ... To anyone with a soft spot for Hollywood movies, circa the 1940s and '50s (count me in), the name June Allyson conjures up all sorts of warm, happy memories. Her star-making appearance in the 1944 MGM musical "Two Girls & a Sailor" famously melted the heart of the nation and propelled her on a long-distance screen career that earned her spots on the top boxoffice stars lists for several years running, more than once in the No. 1 spot. She was a rarity on many levels, one of them being her retaining of the top-star status for so many years without ever playing a great, defining role or having a legendary film to boast about. There was no "Gilda" as with Rita Hayworth, no "The Postman Always Rings Twice" like Lana Turner, no "Barefoot Contessa" like Ava Gardner. Allyson made many entertaining films, yes ("Good News," the 1949 version of "Little Women" and "The Stratton Story" probably the best of them) but still managed to hold a firm grip on the public's affection and attention. Allyson died in July at 88, and on Nov. 2 at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, she will be remembered, as an adorable star and good friend, in a salute, open to the public, hosted by Paul Ryan, with those participating including many of Allyson's former MGM co-stars (Gloria DeHaven, Margaret O'Brien, Kathryn Grayson) and cohorts (Esther Williams, Cyd Charisse, Debbie Reynolds).
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