'Deuce' stars are aces in return to Broadway


NEW YORK -- It was like the bygone Broadway opening-night parties you always hear about: a jammed Sardi's on a Sunday night, high spirits, champagne and toasting, flashbulbs popping and, in this instance, not one but two glamorous stars pulling the lion's share of attention. Angela Lansbury had just opened in her first Broadway show in 25 years; her co-star was the equally indomitable Marian Seldes, this time receiving the best billing on a marquee she's had in a main stem play in her four-plus decades as a dedicated actress. These are women everyone wished well, as well as thoroughbreds who had just given the Sardi-ites crowd and everyone else at the Music Box Theatre a whale of a good time in Terrence McNally's new play "Deuce," a 90-minute exercise about a pair of former tennis doubles champions as they watch a U.S. Open match and, with tennis balls whooshing in front of them, toss off zingers aimed at each other as well as re-address old wounds after 10 years apart. It's a play that kept me thoroughly entertained and engaged throughout, though I suspect even McNally's mother would admit "Deuce" is not one of her son's triumphs. However, with Lansbury and Seldes in the equation, it doesn't really matter that much. The joy is seeing these two great pros at work, not only wringing infinitely more out of McNally's helium-light script than would be expected of mere mortals (mark this down as an example of the art of acting at its trickiest, but here most necessary) but also a prime example of what good actors can do when tackling the work at hand with great enthusiasm and masterful skill. In the hands of Lansbury, Seldes and director Michael Blakemore, "Deuce" becomes as relevant, entertaining and attractive as its two trump cards. ... Among those applauding at the opening and/or at the Sardi's celebration afterward were Elaine Stritch, Nathan Lane, Donna Murphy, Doris Roberts (who flew in from California for the event), a number of the "Curtains" contingent (David Hyde Pierce, Debra Monk, Edward Hibbert, Jason Danieley), John Guare, Barbara Cook, Harvey Evans, Millicent Martin, John Erman, Andrea Martin, John Glover, Donald Smith, Mary Louise Wilson, Harriet Harris, Liz Callaway, Walter Bobbie, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., former tennis pros Billie Jean King and Virginia Wade, a large number of Lansburys (including Angela's twin brothers, Edgar and Bruce), Jan Maxwell, Jamie DeRoy, Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee and someone with a particularly long history with Lansbury and Seldes, Victor Garber. VG co-starred on Broadway in the 1978 "Deathtrap" with Seldes; the next year, he was in the original "Sweeney Todd" with the magnificent Lansbury. ... Speaking of "Todd," before Judy Kaye begins rehearsals for the national company of the new John Doyle version of the Sondheim success, she will do a two-week run beginning June 5 at the Westport Playhouse in Connecticut of Stephen Temperley's terrific play with music "Souvenir," about the real-life, off-key and delusional diva Florence Foster Jenkins. It earned Kaye a well-deserved best actress Tony nomination in 2006.