Commentary: There's 'Spirit' and a 'Story' to tell as Broadway springs back to action


NEW YORK -- This week's Broadway biggies include "Blithe Spirit," which opens Sunday at the Shubert, and "West Side Story," which launches Thursday at the Palace. Angela Lansbury stars in "Spirit," the latest in a line of distinguished actresses to play Noel Coward's eccentric, bicycle-riding medium Madame Arcati. She's joined by Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersole in a revival directed by Michael Blakemore.

Meanwhile, the first major revival of "Story" in 29 years is directed by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book to the 1957 classic, which Leonard Bernstein set to music with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

The following week, Broadway first-nighters will be busy with three more debuts:

> On March 22, "God of Carnage," Yasmina Reza's new play as translated by Christopher Hampton, debuts at the Jacobs with Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis, directed by Matthew Warchus.

> On March 24, the slightly delayed (by 12 days) world premiere of Michael Jacobs' play "Impressionism" opens at the Schoenfeld with Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen and Marsha Mason, directed by Jack O'Brien.

> On March 26, the limited 12-week run of "Exit the King" officially begins at the Barrymore, starring Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon and directed by Neil Armfield. It's a new translation by Rush and Armfield of the Eugene Ionesco comedy, following a tryout in Melbourne and Sydney in 2007.

There's more waiting in the wings: "Irena's Vow," with Tovah Feldshuh, opens March 29 at the Walter Kerr, and "Hair" is having its big blowout March 31 at the Hirschfeld.

Meanwhile, starting the preview process before month's end are August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," on Thursday at the Belasco (ahead of an April 16 opening); the new musical "Rock of Ages," prevuing March 20 at the Brooks Atkinson (it debuts April 7); and "Mary Stuart," with Janet McTeer and Brian Murray, on March 30 at the Broadhurst (it officially begins April 19).

'Final Night' for others

As in the land of Oz, people often come and go quickly here while others stay for eons, but exiting soon is Will Ferrell's enormously popular comedy "You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush," which leaves the Cort Theatre on Sunday after Saturday's live telecast on HBO.

Also in the process of packing up and bringing down the final curtain: the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Richard Greenberg's play "The American Plan," which has been directed by David Grindley and folds at the Friedman (formerly the Biltmore) on March 22, and the Roundabout's revival of Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler" at the American Airlines Theatre, which has been toplined by Mary-Louise Parker and Michael Cerveris and directed by Ian Rickson and finishes its limited run March 29.

STAGE presence

West Coasters should take note of the 25th anniversary Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event on March 21-22 at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills. It's the world's longest active AIDS benefit show, and STAGE annually delivers a masterful mix of music and performances while adding dollars to AIDS Project Los Angeles.

Each year a new composer or lyricist (or both) is saluted. This year's subjects are the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira (or, as one enthusiastic but uninformed radio announcer once referred to them, "George Gershwin and his lovely wife Ira"). Among those singing wall-to-wall Gershwin greats will be Stefanie Powers, Sam Harris, Dee Wallace, Carole Cook, James Darren, Betty Garrett, Linda Michele, the "Forever Plaid" fellows (David Engel, Roger Befeler, Jeremy Bernard and Larry Raben), Mary Jo Catlett, Bill Hutton, Loretta Devine and Ian Abercrombie.

No one directs this sort of song amalgamation better than David Galligan, who is at the helm again this year, with musical direction by Jerry Sternbach and Mary Ekler. Galligan's show consistently is about the best entertainment bargain you can find in Los Angeles, New York or anywhere in between.

An award will be presented to Michael Kearns, one of the STAGE founders, at the opening performance, in recognition of his "ongoing personal and professional commitment to and advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS." Well deserved.

Say it ain't so

The worst news of the month for New Yorkers is that Liz Smith has been cut loose from the New York Post. It's said the paper made the move as part of a financial restructuring, but what it did was erase the primary reason for most New Yorkers buying the Post in the first place.

Liz will survive, of course. She's a hardy Texan, a great reporter, a great person, a New York institution (an official Living New York landmark, even) and already well-entrenched with her own Internet outlet. But not having a Liz Smith column in a New York newspaper is like waking and finding someone has swiped the Statue of Liberty in the dead of night.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host of Turner Classic Movies.