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Musical Chairs on Broadway: Sees Star-Dominated Vehicles' Fragility, Remounted Classic Tuners

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The inevitable and ongoing summer closings and cast replacements on Broadway and Off-many of them driven by stars better known from other fields of show business-were punctuated by the sudden departure of Judi Dench from "Amy's View" last week, to be with her ailing husband in London.

Dench's absence led to a severe drop in the David Hare play's box office receipts and further demonstrated the uncertainty of productions based on star power. Dench is expected to return to the play July 6 for its final nine performances.

Many audience members at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre have elected not to stay to see understudy Jennifer Harmon in the role that won Dench a Tony Award as best actress in a play. Dench cancelled her performances beginning Wed. evening June 23 (including an Actors' Fund benefit performance Sunday night) to fly to England to see her husband, actor Michael Williams. Harmon has been filling in at all performances except the benefit. The limited run of "Amy's View" was always scheduled to close July 13.

Earlier in the season, the illnesses of Nicole Kidman and Brian Dennehy had forced the cancellations of several performances of their shows, "The Blue Room" and "Death of a Salesman," respectively. Dennehy, who has no understudy as Willie Loman, and the entire cast of "Salesman" are on vacation this week. The show closed June 29 and will reopen with the matinee on Wed. July 6. Ron Eldard has left the cast of Off-Broadway's "bash" after less than a week to replace Kevin Anderson in the role of Biff Loman, Willie's elder son.

"bash," Neil LaBute's three one-acts at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, was last week's big opening, thanks to its starring Calista Flockhart, an Off-Broadway alumna now better known as television's "Ally MacBeal."

Other television stars on hiatus from their productions and working On or Off-Broadway, include George Segal ("Just Shoot Me") and Wayne Knight ("Third Rock from the Sun") as two-thirds of "Art" (with Buck Henry) through August 15; Bill Brochtrup ("NYPD Blue") in "Snakebit" through early August; and Scott Wolf, of "Party of Five," who has replaced Christian Slater as the son/narrator in "Side Man," through July 17, after which Wolf returns to his series. No replacement for Wolf has been set.

Sometimes Hollywood's hot actors summering in New York theatre don't make it all the way through their hiatuses. Lisa Gay Hamilton ("The Practice") opened two weeks ago in "Angelique," to glowing notices. Less than a week later she left the cast to accept a movie role.

Revolving the Stage Door

One forthcoming Broadway musical by a living composer, Stephen Sondheim, has made a major cast change prior to the first rehearsal. Susan Egan has left "Putting It Together" in order to take over the role of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret." She will be replaced by Ruthie Henshall, who is currently in her Broadway debut as Velma Kelly in "Chicago." To accommodate Henshall's commitment to that show, "Putting It Together" producer Cameron Mackintosh has postponed its first preview until Oct. 29 and the opening until middle or late November.

Kathleen Chalfant, whose performance in "Wit" garnered her every acting award for which she was eligible, will leave the Off-Broadway show at the Union Square Theatre after the Aug. 8 Sunday matinee. A replacement has yet to be named. Chalfant will resume the role of a dying cancer patient at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in January.

Scott Glenn returned to the title role of "Killer Joe" at the Soho Playhouse, which extended the play's run by two weeks. The show closed Sun., June 27.

In June, Deedee Lynn Magno reclaimed the role of Kim in "Miss Saigon" at the Broadway Theatre. (At the same time, Kristine Remigio joined the cast to play Kim at certain performances.) Magno in turn was replacing Lea Salonga, who won a Tony in the part eight years ago and had recently returned to the show for a five-month stint.

Polly Draper recently has taken over for Natasha Richardson in "Closer," at the Music Box. Director-playwright Patrick Marber took the occasion to rewrite her role as an American -- which Draper is -- working in London. In addition to several lines explaining the character's emigrant status, Marber also dropped English colloquial phrases in favor of more accessible American speech-and restored his relatively "more bittersweet" ending of the play's earlier London version.

"Smokey Joe's Cafe," which recently became the longest-running revue in Broadway history, continues to provide a welcoming revolving door for pop music icons. Lesley Gore will return to the show, at the Virginia Theatre, for two more weeks beginning July 13. And Gladys Knight is coming back, without the Pips, for two weeks starting Aug. 17.

"This Lime Tree Bower," the Conor McPherson play at Primary Stages, has been extended through July 18. Jamie Bennett replaced T. R. Knight in the role of Joe on June 28.

This week, Ken Page joins the company of "It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues" for four weeks, filling in for Ron Taylor, who is recovering from a mild stroke.

While the influx of Hollywood stars to Broadway appears to have abated a bit, Woody Harrelson will do a relatively limited run in "The Rainmaker" at the Roundabout beginning in November. Julie Harris, a five-time Tony winner as Best Actress, will star in South African playwright Lisette Lecat Ross's "Scent of the Roses" at the Belasco Theatre beginning Dec. 1, after a run at the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center in Nyack, N.Y., in October and November.

Heading away from Broadway are Richard Chamberlain, who recently closed in the role of Captain Von Trapp in the revival of "The Sound of Music," but will reprise the part on tour starting in Minneapolis in August. Matthew Broderick, after last weekend's closing of "Night Must Fall," will finish his work on the movie "You Can Count on Me." (He's been filming on Mondays and half of Tuesdays while in the play.)

"Ring Round the Moon" on Broadway, and "Beautiful Thing" Off-Broadway also closed on Sun. June 27. The Kevin Spacey-led production of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" will close its limited run on schedule July 17. Charles Ludlam's "The Mystery of Irma Vep" is set to close the next day, after 335 performances and 22 previews at the Westside Theatre.

Good Role, My Someone

No matter how many Hollywood stars troop to Broadway come fall and winter, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Meredith Willson, E. Y. Harburg, and Burton Lane are likely be the pre-eminent names in the next New York theatre season as surely as the dramatists Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill were in the one recently ended.

"Kiss Me, Kate," "The Boys From Syracuse," "The Music Man" and "Finian's Rainbow," all classic and successful shows from the golden age of musicals, are set for openings between this November and the late spring of 2000-in two cases with completely rewritten librettos. While major Hollywood stars have been pursued for the title role in "The Music Man," the only firm casting announced so far has been drawn from reliable, familiar theatre names.

Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell, who played opposite one another in "Ragtime," will star as the feuding ex-husband and wife touring co-stars in the first-ever Broadway revival of the 1948 "Kiss Me, Kate," Porter's biggest hit. The show is set for a Nov. 18 opening after three weeks of previews. Michael Blakemore, who directed "The Life" and "City of Angels," will direct a cast that also includes Amy Spanger and Michael Barresse. Kathleen Marshall ("Swinging on a Star," "1776") has been signed to choreograph, and Paul Gemignani will conduct. No one else will be revising the Sam and Bella Spewack libretto, which was based in part on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew."

The revival of "The Music Man," Willson's 1957 show about an early 1900s Iowa con man, is still scheduled to go into rehearsal in December for a spring 2000 opening, despite the big parade of movie names who have turned down the title role indelibly played by Robert Preston on Broadway and in the 1962 movie version. Stars as disparate as Alec Baldwin, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, and Patrick Swayze have turned down a rumored 10% of the show's box-office gross receipts to reprise Preston's role for a year or so. Michael David, a principal in the revival's producing company, Dodger Endemol Theatrical, reportedly now favors Bill Irwin ("Fool Moon") for the part, while "Music Man" director Susan Stroman is said to prefer Scott Bakula.

One component of "The Music Man"-apart from the director-is set: there will be no rewriting or "updating" of Willson's semi-autobiographical, defiantly period book (he also wrote the music and lyrics), a spokesperson for the producers confirmed.

Such will not be the case with the two other scheduled classic musicals. "The Boys From Syracuse," the 1938 Rodgers and Hart musical based on Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors," will get a completely revamped libretto by Nicky Silver for the nonprofit Roundabout Theatre Company revival projected for the spring of 2000. Scott Ellis will direct the production, which will be augmented with new songs, with the permission of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. No casting has been set.

"Finian's Rainbow," Harburg and Lane's 1947 then-breakthrough but now somewhat dated fantasy/satire, will get a new libretto by Peter Stone, who refurbished the book for the current revival of "Annie Get Your Gun." The new "Finian's Rainbow," whose leads are still not cast, will be directed by Lonny Price for an Oct. 12 opening at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse (through Nov. 21). The musical will move to the Cleveland Playhouse for a Nov. 30-Dec. 12 run before a projected February opening on Broadway.

Casting notices have run in Back Stage for "The Music Man," "Kiss Me Kate," and "Finian's Rainbow," and casting for the chorus and dancers of these shows has been completed. "The Boys From Syracuse" casting notice should appear in a future issue, as will an update on the forthcoming season.

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