Will Russian Tea Room revive its starry past?


NEW YORK -- The best news around these parts at the moment, more than all the Broadway activity, is the reopening of the Russian Tea Room. Ever since Faith Stewart-Gordon's famous eatery on West 57th (as the ads used to say, "Six minutes and 23 seconds from Lincoln Center and slightly to the left of Carnegie Hall") closed all those years ago, there hasn't been a New York gathering hub to replace it. Once upon a time, it was the one spot every celebrity and would-be dandy hit when in the city, or merely out for a meal or a deal. You would walk in and maybe see Woody Allen at the first booth on the left (once a spot regularly occupied by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin), superagent Sam Cohen on the right, Sydney Pollack and Meryl Streep in a heavy conference somewhere in between, Ann Miller breezing among tables to say hello to Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury and Anthony Quinn. All that changed when Warner LeRoy took over the RTR, tore it down in order to rebuild it with elevators and more floors and, at the same time, people who couldn't get into Planet Hollywood down the street began showing up in jeans, pushing strollers and wanting a hamburger -- at which point the stars vamoosed and, before long, the once-unstoppable restaurant wilted and then locked its doors. But just as Broadway in recent years has done well with revivals, one hopes the "new" Russian Tea Room will return in triumph. The new owners/hosts/chef reopened those doors two weeks ago; at present, only dinners are being served, but the plan is to start opening for the lunch trade before the month is over. ... Thursday, amid much hoopla, the Walt Disney Co.'s legit version of "Mary Poppins" makes its official debut at the New Amsterdam Theatre, directed by Richard Eyre, co-directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne, this coming just a month shy of two years after this stage "Mary" popped for the first time at London's Prince Edward Theatre. Broadway's Mary is Ashley Brown, and the cast includes the wonderful Jane Carr as Mrs. Brill and Rebecca Luker, the 1998-99 Maria in the most recent Broadway revival of "The Sound of Music," as Mrs. Banks. ... The same night, prevues begin at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on "Spring Awakening," directed by Michael Mayer, an all-new rock musical adapted from Frank Wedekind's play, music by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics by Stephen Sater. ... Something special for the Christmas stocking: J. David Riva's magnificent book about his amazing grandmother Marlene Dietrich, titled "A Woman at War: Marlene Dietrich Remembered." Riva is a first-rate filmmaker and documentarian; Dietrich, of course, was one of the most iconic women of her time. The handsome book shows all facets of her life, especially the period in which the German-born star basically put her career on hold to entertain and visit American GIs on the frontlines in World War II as a way of showing her loathing of Nazism and a desire to prove not all Germans were villains. Riva guides the book like a superb captain; the majority of the text comes from the memories of Marlene by 23 people, including Burt Bacharach, Rosemary Clooney, Hildegarde Neff, Joseph von Sternberg's son Nicholas, A.C. Lyles, Riva's mother (and Dietrich's daughter) Maria Riva and such opposites as a Nazi youth (and Dietrich nephew) Hans Georg Will and American GI Col. Barney Oldfield.