rambling reporter

Tantalizing Tony 'Affair' as a 'Gypsy' rides again

Prevues begin today on a likely contender for Tony attention in the best musical category (especially, the forecasters say, for Faith Prince's lead actress performance) when "A Catered Affair" takes to the stage of the Walter Kerr following its tryout last year at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. The Harvey Fierstein-John Bucchino musical adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's work opens here April 17, with Prince stepping into the big shoes first inhabited on television in 1955 by the great Thelma Ritter and in the 1956 film version by Ritter's "All About Eve" teammate Bette Davis. … Meanwhile, opening tonight off-Broadway is Itamar Moses' new play, "The Four of Us," for the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center and directed by Pam MacKinnon. That is followed by Wednesday's opening of Adam Brock's "The Drunken City" at Playwrights Horizons, directed by Trip Cullman, and Thursday's long-belated premiere of Ernest Hemingway's "The Fifth Column," directed by Jonathan Bank, at the Mint. Hemingway wrote the play in the 1930s, but it was drastically rewritten by screenwriter Benjamin Glazer for its 1940 premiere under the auspices of the Theatre Guild at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon). It was directed by Lee Strasberg and featured a cast of 30, headed by Franchot Tone, Lee J. Cobb and Lenore Ulric. Flash ahead 68 years: This Mint production delivers the play exactly as Hemingway penned it, not as Glazer rewrote it. … Also on Thursday, after nearly four weeks of prevues, the Patti LuPone revival of "Gypsy" opens at the St. James amid much press and anticipation. LuPone is likely to be Prince's major competition for this year's musical actress Tony. Expect that category to also include Kelli O'Hara in the revival of "South Pacific," in prevues at the Vivian Beaumont; Elizabeth Stanley in the musicalized "Cry-Baby," also prevuing at the Marquis; and Jenna Russell in "Sunday in the Park With George," already into its run at Studio 54. … Interesting about the "Gypsy" history with Tony. The role of Mama Rose won a 1975 best actress Tony for Angela Lansbury in the first revival of the show; it also won Tyne Daly a 1990 Tony for her redo. However, there was no Tony for Ethel Merman, the woman who created the role, despite the fact that it is considered the role and the performance of her legendary legit career. The Merm lost the prize that year (1960) to Mary Martin in "The Sound of Music." … Speaking of Tonys, four-time winner Fierstein, who not only co-authored the book of the newly musicalized "Catered Affair" but also co-stars in it, will receive the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Dramatists at the group's 59th annual spring luncheon May 15 at the Marriott Marquis. … Kander & Ebb's "Curtains" will be departing the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on June 29 after 511 performances and 26 prevues. … The delightful "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" is, as announced, ending its run at the American Airlines Theatre on Saturday but — the good news — it's going to be moving to the Cort Theatre one month later, on April 29, with an official "reopening" night May 8. Based on Hitchcock's 1935 cult favorite with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, this legit version is a hoot. It's a speeded-up, roadrunner telling of the spy tale with a cast of four playing a multitude of roles and delivering one of the most entertaining evenings you'll find right now on Broadway.