Summer run of 'Damn Yankees' returns venue to Center of attention

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NOpening on Saturday at the City Center is "Damn Yankees," starring Sean Hayes, Jane Krakowski, Cheyenne Jackson and Randy Graff and directed by John Rando. It's the second attraction in the "Encores!" summer series that began last year with Patti LuPone in "Gypsy" (and we all know what happened to that).

The big change here is that unlike the usual "Encores" runs of only four or five days, productions in the "Summer Stars Encores!" series play longer — three weeks in the case of "Yankees." It not only adds pizzazz to the summer showbiz season but also harks back to a mouth-watering era when summer at the City Center regularly meant a full slate of musical revivals and play retreads at bargain prices, often with exceptional casts, running the gamut from Jennifer Jones, Franchot Tone and Rip Torn in a revival of the angst-saturated "The Country Girl" to such do-re-mi's as "Brigadoon" and "The King and I."

Jose Ferrer once dominated the summer City Center season by starring in four different plays back-to-back, including "Cyrano de Bergerac" (Arlene Dahl was his Roxanne), "Charley's Aunt" and "The Shrike"; he directed several of them as well. That particular showoff sensibility inspired Betty Comden and Adolph Green to satirize Ferrer's indefatigability by writing a Ferrer-like theater whirlwind into their witty screenplay for the 1953 Fred Astaire-Cyd Charisse musical "The Band Wagon."

In that movie, Jack Buchanan played an eccentric, madly busy Broadway man-of-many-hats frenetically, ambitiously (and ill-advisedly) turning what was to be a little song-and-dance show into an epic-sized musical version of "Faust." All of it was based on Ferrer's wild summer at the City Center — not long after he also staged four or five shows concurrently on Broadway (and starred in one as well).

As for "Yankees," the last time it was staged in a New York house was 1994-95, when it played for 718 performances in a revival at the Marquis with Victor Garber, Bebe Neuwirth and Jerrod Emick in the leads, after which Jerry Lewis, amid much publicity, took over Garber's role of the Devil.

Also ignoring that no-summer-openings credo: the new Hunter Bell-Jeff Bowen musical called "(title of show)," which begins prevuing Saturday at the Lyceum.

Keeping up with Pierce

Kander & Ebb's "Curtains" played its final show Sunday at the Al Hirschfeld after 511 performances, 26 prevues and a 2007 Tony Award for David Hyde Pierce. The Hirschfeld house won't be vacant long: Prevues begin Aug. 19 on the new and musicalized "A Tale of Two Cities," which had its world premiere in October at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla. Its Broadway opening is set for Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, Pierce is good to go on his next legiter, following first "Spamalot" and then "Curtains." He'll star in the Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of Samson Raphaelson's "Accent on Youth," directed by Daniel Sullivan, which is aiming to begin its prevuing process in April.

With this latest assignment, Pierce follows in the footsteps of Herbert Marshall, Bing Crosby and Clark Gable, who all starred in various movie versions of Raphaelson's 1934 comedy. Crosby's was a 1950 musical version titled "Mr. Music" that also had Groucho Marx in the cast; Gable's was a 1959 comedy called "But Not for Me" with Carroll Baker.

Comings and goings

Ringing down the final curtain Sunday was the Roundabout Theatre Company's "Sunday in the Park With George" at Studio 54.

Exiting this weekend is "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," with Laura Linney at the American Airlines Theatre. It never caught fire onstage or with audiences during its 10-week run.

It's worth noting that the 1987 run of "Liaisons," with Alan Rickman, caught fire big-time; it was the talk of the town when it burst onto the scene at the Music Box. But it didn't have that long a run, either, playing just four months and clocking in at 149 performances.

Kate Mulgrew will be joining the "Harry Potter" gents Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths in Peter Shaffer's "Equus" when it opens Sept. 25 at the Broadhurst. Prevues begin Sept. 5. It's set for a limited 22-week engagement through February, meaning Radcliffe will be treading the Broadway boards when "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" debuts in November.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host of Turner Classic Movies.
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