After this, 'Curtains' for Kander & Ebb on Broadway


NEW YORK -- This is the week "Curtains" makes its Broadway debut, following its world premiere in August at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles. It bows Thursday at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, with Scott Ellis directing and David Hyde Pierce solving a murder between musical numbers and funny zingers in the last new Kander & Ebb musical we'll ever see on the Great White Way. ... Prevues began Monday night at the Lyceum on the revival of "Inherit the Wind" with Christopher Plummer, Brian Dennehy and Denis O'Hare, directed by Doug Hughes. It officially opens April 12. ... Tonight, off-Broadway gets a lift with the premiere of Charles Busch's new play, "Our Leading Lady," for the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, with Kate Mulgrew as Laura Keene, the 19th century stage diva who was starring in "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre in D.C. the night Abraham Lincoln made his last visit to a theater. We all know what happened to Abe; Busch speculates what happened toMs. Keene. Maxwell Caulfield and Barbara Byrne are also in the cast, with Lynne Meadow directing. ... So many people who have contributed to the multilayered history of the film business have died of late, each deserving recognition of their talent and time in front of movie cameras, but few more so than the multitalented Betty Hutton, who died March 11 after a life of amazing highs and horrific lows. One hopes that the dear, complicated, loyal, needy, sometimes frightening but always oh-so-vulnerable lady has now finally found some peace. The Betty Hutton I knew was adorable, someone I admired enormously. Many who knew her much better than I feel the same about her, with even stronger reasons for doing so. But some who worked with her in the 1940s and '50s -- when the name Betty Hutton was known around the world and she ranked as the most important female star at Paramount -- remember her as something akin to a nightmare. (When Paramount's chief designer Edith Head was told Hutton was leaving the studio in 1962, she said, "Oh, now I won't have to cry anymore.") But there were reasons for the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality that often surfaced, including a complicated childhood worse than the one Dickens gave either David Copperfield or Oliver Twist. There was also her relentless desire to entertain, mixed with the usual foibles of show business: unstable marriages (one husband persuaded her to refuse to work unless he directed all her films); an addiction to pills; and, maybe worst of all, a mentor named Buddy DeSylva, who became a major force at Paramount and made her a star (the good part) but never curtailed her behavior when she ran roughshod over crews and co-workers (the disastrous part) because she always made such pots of money for his studio. DeSylva died suddenly in 1950, and within two years, so, basically, did her film career. But Betty was a gallant survivor. She eventually pulled herself together as best she could, embracing religion and coming to grips with the jolting fact that though she had once been famous and beloved, by the 2000s most people had never heard of her. But her great desire to be loved, especially by audiences, never left her. I think she would be amazed to know how many out there still feel the same way about her.