An Amusement Column                  


Lesli Margherita, Samantha Joy Pearlman, Ruby Rakos, Max von Essen and Tessa Gray: Chasing Rainbows – MGM calling . . .


Colin Hanlon, Stephen DeRosa and Karen Mason: Chasing Rainbows: star-makers


by Harry Haun


A STAR IS STILLBORN?: Paper Mill Playhouse stopped Chasing Rainbows Sunday, and nobody—least of all the producers—will say whether the show is going forward or, indeed, going at all. This scrappy tuner, retagged tantalizingly The Road to Oz, described how the teenage Frances Gumm turned into Judy Garland and got a toehold on MGM. . . .Clearly, Ruby Rakos was cast for The Big Sound and not for any slipper association; she doesn’t have the emotional-tear-in-the-voice that Garland did, but then who does? . . . The gloom in the Gumm home did not come from her or her two sisters or their mother but from her dad, whose bisexuality (though earnestly presented by Max von Essen) weighed like a ton on the show’s tinsel. . . . Its best, or most diverting, moments were the set visits when the plot was sparkled with authentic–even relevant!–backlot legends like Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, George Jessel and Gale Sondergaard, the original glammed-up Wicked Witch of the West (before the studio decided to go with hatchet-faced Margaret Hamilton). Director Denis Jones exuberantly choreographed these sequences. . . . John Fricke served as the musical’s Creative Consultant, as well he should (being the ex prexy of The Judy Garland Fan Club and author of seven books on that subject). He kept Marc Acito’s script well within the realm of easy accuracy. The music is basically a replay of Garland’s Greatest Hits, with lyrics often revised by Tina Marie Casamento to fit into the scene being played. . . . Roger Edens, the first MGM exec to understand Garland’s gifts (he wrote the “Dear Mr. Gable” intro to “You Made Me Love You”), was well-represented by Colin Hanlon, and Karen Mason as The Power Behind the Throne, Kay Koverman, secretary to Louis B. Mayer (Stephen DeRosa), scored with the show’s best set of reworked lyrics (she got to tell L.B. “If You Only Had a Brain”). . . . It’s true Mayer thought “Over the Rainbow” slowed the movie and wanted it cut but caved when producer Arthur Freed threatened to quit. And it was George Cukor, later director of A Star Is Born, who changed that clump of blonde hair into a decent ‘do for Dorothy Gale. . . . The film’s designated director, Victor Fleming, wasn’t exactly “punished” for slapping Garland during the Wizard of Oz shoot. He was removed from the picture and had to atone for his sin by directing Gone With the Wind. That brought him to the brink of suicide and forced him to relinquish control of GWTW to Sam Wood for two weeks. It also brought him the Oscar (as it did Vivien Leigh, who, throughout the filming, fought Fleming tooth-and-nail). . . . What does an ex-exec sec do next? Karen Mason turns into a nightclub chanteuse Nov. 25-27 at the Birdland Theater and gives her all to Kander and Ebb. . . . The most deliciously malicious skit in Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation (which just opened at its old stand on West 72nd, The Triad, after a five-year AWOL) has Judy Garland imitating Renee Zellweger imitating Judy Garland. Wicked! Zellweger may be the Oscar frontrunner, but Gerard Alessandrini can’t be fooled. . . . Another polluted bouquet flung by writer-director-instigator Alessandrini lands on Tony nominee Fionnula Flanagan, who was mute through most scenes in The Ferryman and then chirped like a magpie in others. In the Forbidden Broadway translation (“How Are Things in Irish Drama?”), she’s discovered, catatonic, draped across a side of the stage. . . . The dark and now-departing Oklahoma! has such choice morsels as “Oh, What a Miserable Mornin’” and “Woke-lahoma!” . . . As usual, all the goofy, spoofy performances—these by Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston, Aline Mayagoitia, Jenny Lee Stern and Joshua Turchin—seem comically sculptured into place. The newcomer to the group is new indeed: Joshua just turned 13—but he can keep up with the adults doing the madcap choreography, and he gets his laughs playing someone too old to do Dear Evan Hanson (“Evan Has-Been”). Can you imagine what he’ll be like when he can vote! . . . Angela Lansbury was another under-aged overachiever. She film-debuted in 1944’s Gaslight as the domestic tart who woos Charles Boyer away from Ingrid Bergman, but she had to wait two weeks until she turned 18 before she could have a cigarette on camera. . . . La Lansbury is now 94 and readying her next role—the wise, prickly Lady Bracknell—for Roundabout’s one-night-only benefit reading of The Importance of Being Earnest. Michael Wilson will direct this elegant Oscar Wilde antic Nov. 18 at the American Airlines Theater.

                                    Karen Mason – from Oz to Birdland in one month


Jenny Lee Stern, Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston, Fred Barton, Joshua Turchin and Aline Mayagitia – Cast of Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation the gags all here (Photo Carol Rosegg)


Angela Lansbury – a Wilde lady


Miles Malleson in Kind Hearts and Coronets – a poetry-spouting hangman


MILES AND MILES TO GO: Dotty and doddering, Miles Malleson stumbled and stammered his way through every known profession presented in British films for three and half decades—from the theater watchman in 1931’s Farewell to Love to the salesman in 1965’s You Must Be Joking! Of his 137 screen credits, you should remember him as Canon Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest or as the cheery, philosophical hangman in Kind Hearts and Coronets or as the spectral hearse driver (“Room for one more, sir”) in Dead of Night. . . . You might never have suspected this, but a serious person was always trying to climb out of that clown—and succeeded on occasion. . . . The profession he truly aspired for was playwright. He started it in 1913 and finished it translating/adapting Moliere. In between, he got in his share of wise and witty licks. Mint Theater Company’s artistic director, Jonathan Banks, unearthed some choice Mallesons in his Anglo-American digs and brought them across the pond for stateside revivals. Conflict and Yours Unfaithfully, both New York Times Critic’s Picks, were the first to arrive, and more are on the way. Next up (Jan. 23-March 4 at Theater Row) is Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories, the world-premiere pairing of Malleson’s adaptations of short stories by Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy. Actually, even before then—like, immediately, on Oct. 28—is a one-night-only staged reading of Malleson’s first full-length play, Youth, a backstage comedy about a first-time playwright—something he had no trouble identifying with.


Jennifer Roberts – a lyrical kind of love


WHAT’S IN A NAME?: The She in She Loves . . . Sheldon is Jennifer Roberts, and that’s what she calls the club act she’s presenting Nov. 5 at Don’t Tell Mama saluting Sheldon Harnick, the word wizard of She Loves Me, The Rothschilds, The Apple Tree, Fiddler on the Roof, et al. . . . At one time, that She could have stood for the first Mrs. Harnick, who, it might startle you to learn, is 2019’s Tony-winning Best Actress, Elaine May. (The marriage lasted a comma.) . . . The title-holding She, of course, is actress-photographer Margery Gray, who met the lyricist auditioning for Bock and Harnick’s Tenderloin and is now nearing her 55th year as Mrs. Sheldon Harnick.


Jenn Colella – a change of pace in space (Photo by David Gordon)


PREVIEWS OF LONG-TIME-IN-COMING ATTRACTIONS: Come From Away—the surprise smash that continues to do 100.1% capacity after more than 1,000 performances on Broadway—took out a full-page ad in the National Alliance for Musical Theater brochure last week and, as one who has been there (NAMT Fest Alum ’13), saluted the pick of 2019’s litter. Eight new hungry-to-be-hit musicals were singled out to peddle their wares in sample-size 45-minute doses before regional theater professionals, in the fervent hope of full-blown productions down the line. . . . In a sense, Come From Away was the made-to-order candidate to debut in this type of venue, being a Canadian/Samaritan story about 7,000 plane passengers being stranded in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11. Two years after its NAMT bow, the show started its sold-out march to Broadway—from San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse to Seattle Rep to Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. to Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theater and eventually, on March 12, 2017, to New York’s Schoenfeld. Done in just under three and a half years! . . . This is the ideal all NAMT contenders aspired to and few realized, but some do, and that’s all the hope you have to have. Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Drowsy Chaperone enjoyed nice Main Stem runs (having Sutton Foster for a star emphatically helps); also, It Shoulda Been You managed a fleeting Broadway appearance. Paper Mill Playhouse has taken in some NAMT grads (Harold and Maude, Benny & Joon, June Moon), and others have been scattered regionally or to Off-Broadway (The Screams of Kitty Genovese, Bloodsong of Love, Pamela’s First Musical, The Gig, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, See Rock City and Other Destinations). . . . The eight entries were trimmed, sometimes truncated, to give a general impression of what the show was and what it had to sing about. Each was outfitted in eight-to-ten Equity actors whose performances extended beyond their roles to enjoying the music or appreciating the work of a fellow actor. And the material musicalized couldn’t have been more varied. . . . On first hearing, with these ears, Lautrec at the St. James seemed to have the most accessible and listenable score, with an excellent portrayal of the Moulin Rouge poster boy by Ben Roseberry, and there’s nice, spiky music accompanying a transgender’s road trip, Interstate. . . . One show (SeaWife) was a nautical folk-rock musical recalling the great whale-hunting days of yore, acted and performed by The Lobbyists, who collectively wrote the score. Another (One Way) pondered a one-way trip to the moon (Jenn Colella, who piloted the rerouted airliner in Come From Away, did “an acting stretch,” playing the stay-at-home whose partner craved a lunar life). . . . Scottish wordsmith Scott Gilmore found his show (Hi, My Name Is Ben) in a New York Times obituary about a trauma-induced mute who spent his life communicating with pen, pad and the title sentiment and who emerged from cancer surgery miraculously with the ability to speak his final year. When Gilmore read that, he reacted like any NAMT creative: “It’s a musical!