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February 28, 2012 - by Griffin Miller

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You don’t have to run a tally on the limos idling outside Broadway theatres to do the celebrity math: big names are all over New York stages this March -- rehearsing, starting previews, entering established shows, launching new productions -- in short, giving the Big Apple its star-powered mystique. And at the moment, the head count of esteemed performers assembled for two new shows -- one a play, one a musical -- is way staggering.

Let’s start with the play, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, a well-timed election year revival homing in on a couple of candidate wannabes in the early 1960s. The amazing cast -- I’m talking wall-to-wall Emmy, Oscar and Tony winners/nominees -- includes (in alphabetical order) Candice Bergen, Kerry Butler (Hairspray; Xanadu), Donna Hanover (the actress who once starred as Mrs. Mayor Giuliani -- nice political touch), James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette, Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife), Eric McCormack, and Michael McKean. [Trivia aside: One of Lansbury’s most celebrated cinematic turns was in 1962’s political spy thriller The Manchurian Candidate; Larroquette and Bergen, cast as husband and wife in the play, costarred on the TV series Boston Legal, and in the final episode, their characters got married.]

The musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It, while also well stocked in the star department and vintage Americana -- although set 40 years prior to The Best Man, during the Jazz Age -- has the added distinction of being the second Gershwin show to arrive this season. The first, of course, was The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess, a stunning revival starring Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier, which opened January 17.

•••

But Nice Work is a totally different ballgame. First off, it’s an original story built around songs (classics and a few surprises) from Ira and George’s massive songbook. Joe DiPietro, whose writing expertise helped earn Memphis 2010’s Best Musical Tony, is the librettist while the romance du jour centers around a bootlegging babe (Kelli O’Hara, who dazzled as Nelile Forbush in Lincoln Center’s revival of South Pacific), and film and theatre A-lister Matthew Broderick, whose inspired Leo Bloom in The Producers ensured him Broadway legend status.

Difficult as it may be for the majority of women to bid adieu to a beloved wardrobe item, for fans of Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore, saying good-bye to the Off-Broadway production after two-and-a-half-plus years, promises to be especially poignant.

Slated to play its final performance (#1,013) on March 25, the show is a series of reflections on the role clothing played during significant “life milestones.” One of Love, Loss’s key attractions was its use of rotating casts (32 in all) of five well-known performers, among them Kristin Chenoweth, Tyne Daly, Rosie O’Donnell, Brooke Shields, Janeane Garofalo, Haylie Duff, Minka Kelly, Fran Drescher, Jane Lynch, and Anne Meara. In all, 120 different actresses appeared in the show.  

•••

On the extension front, the aforementioned The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess has prolonged its tenure from June 24 to September 30, while Anything Goes starring Sutton Foster and Joel Grey has posted the latest of several extensions, taking it through September 9.

Meanwhile, in the winners circle: The Book of Mormon has added a Grammy Award (Best Musical Theater Album) to its collection of kudos; and as of February 11, The Phantom of the Opera -- the longest-running show in Broadway history -- celebrated its 10,000th performance!


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