Singing and dancing: It's all about this 'Applause'


NEW YORK -- The big showbiz news this week in the New York theater arena is Thursday's launch of the 2008 season of the indispensable "Encores!" series at the City Center, kicking off with a concert staging of "Applause." It's a musicalized version of Hollywood's 1950 Oscar winner "All About Eve," this time with Tony winner (for "Grey Gardens") Christine Ebersole playing/singing/dancing the role that put a Tony in the hands of Lauren Bacall in 1970 against competition that included Bacall's good friend Katharine Hepburn (for "Coco"). But long before Bacall and the others who followed her as the musicalized Margo Channing (on Broadway they were Anne Baxter and Arlene Dahl, then Eleanor Parker for the national tour and later Nanette Fabray, Patrice Munsel, Eva Gabor, Stephanie Powers and Charles Pierce in regional productions), it's a role that in its original, nonmusical state resurrected Bette Davis' career in films after a serious slump. And it became so identified with Davis that it's her image as that character that has been chosen to be used on the U.S. stamp that will be issued later this year to celebrate Davis. Flash ahead 58 years from Davis and 28 years from Bacall -- the role couldn't be in better hands than those of Ebersole, one of today's most prized ladies of the legit world; certainly she'll be singing the lyrics of Lee Adams, with music by Charles Strouse, as they've never been heard before, since those earlier "Applause" incarnations were consistently cast more with an eye toward acting prowess and glamour than vocal range. Joining Ebersole in this edition will be Kate Burton, Mario Cantone (in the role done in the film by Thelma Ritter and in the Broadway original by Lee Roy Reams), Megan Sikora and Erin Davis. ... One thing about "Applause" that has always puzzled me: Why was the show's rousing, toe-tapping title song given to a supporting character (Bonnie Franklin, as a Broadway gypsy, in the original) instead of the show's central character (i.e. Bacall) who dominated the show. It always seemed that the Strouse-Adams anthem to showbiz was a natural to be delivered by the musical's star as surely as the "Hello, Dolly" number was the crowning moment for anyone who starred in that show. ... This newest "Encores!" resurrection of "Applause" is being directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, and it's worth noting that in the credits of this production, it acknowledges that it's based on the Joseph Mankiewicz film "and the original story by Mary Orr." That's more than the 1950 film did. ... Movie buffs and film scholars have long been puzzled why the name of Mary Orr is nowhere to be found in the film's credits. Mankiewicz, who won Oscars for directing the film and penning its brilliant screenplay, never made secret of the fact that he based it on a short story by Orr titled "The Wisdom of Eve," which was first published in the May 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and adapted into a 1949 radio play done on NBC with Claudia Morgan and Marilyn Erskine. Curiously, neither Mankiewicz nor 20th Century Fox studios, which made the film, saw fit to make any acknowledgment in the screen credits to Orr's contribution, her characters or her story line.