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[Broadway Ad Network]

  • The dog days of summer have really arrived. If you're looking for ways to beat them, how about a Sondheim show, songs from a Broadway sweetheart, a little Broadway karaoke, or tongue-twisters from a young English composer? Visit Broadway stars in the summer's movie blockbuster! Where are the scene-stealers, you ask? Up at Lincoln Center. Tired of over-amplified shows? Help is on the way! Finally, get Fringe news and an update on an actor missing about town.

    Of prime interest is the splendid cast CD of Roundabout's Assassins revival with Michael Starobin's orchestrations and 13-piece orchestra conducted by Paul Gemignani. You know how superlabel RCA packaged Sondheim scores; well, relative newcomer PS Classics has nothing to be embarrassed about. The deluxe 48-page booklet [don't lose the outer sleeve because the book won't fit into the jewel case] has a foreword by book writer John Weidman, historical information, numerous production photos, a synopsis, lyrics and bits of dialogue.

    Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius! Julie Andrews is back in her very comfortable Disney niche and singing! After her well-documented vocal problems following what was thought to be routine throat surgery and the news that she might never sing again, it's good, indeed, to hear Andrews in Garry Marshall's The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. The film continues the adventures of an everyday teen [Anne Hathaway] who inherits a throne and be must royally educated by her grandmamma. The soundtrack, also available on Walt Disney Records, has Andrews in some very youthful company. She does some light vocalizing on "Your Crowning Glory," which segues into an upbeat duet with Disney Channel star Raven. It's the highlight of an otherwise "bubblegum" pop/rock score which -- with songs by American Idol Kelly Clarkson, Norah Jones, Pink, Avril Lavigne, actress Lindsay Lohan, Disney Channel and Beauty and the Beast star Christy Carlson Romano, and Jesse McCartney [star of TVs Summerland] -- nonetheless will have high appeal to impressionable teen girls. There is more good news from Andrews. She'll direct the big summer 2005 musical at Goodspeed, Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend, the musical which introduced Andrews on this side of the pond in 1954. A tour of eight or more cities is being discussed. Her production premiered last summer at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre. [Trivia: In the cast of the original production was the fine English actor Geoffrey Hibbert, father of Edward, Millicent Martin and Buddy Schwab, who was in the original Guys and Dolls and had a successful career as choreographer.]

    Susan Egan made a splash in her 1994 Broadway debut as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, heaping critical praise and receiving a Best Actress Tony nod. Most recently, she stepped into Sutton Foster's shoes in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Until then, since 1999, she was stepping in and out of Cabaret as Sally Bowles. Her new LML CD, Coffee House lets us know what she's been up to. Growing up, she says, she was greatly influenced by Joan Baez and dreamed of singing in hip coffee houses. And those wouldn't be bad places to listen to these reworkings of folk and rock songs [by Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Janis Ian], cabaret, film and, no surprise, Broadway [well, from Jerry Herman's forthcoming Miss Spectacular] -- several recorded for the first time. On one track, Egan duets with her B&B co-star Terrance Mann.

    You Oughta Be On Broadway: They Sing/You Sing [SSF Records] is the perfect CD for those female audience members who insist on singing along with the cast. Sally Mayes, Liz Callaway, Penny Fuller and Anne Runolfsson are among the 12 artists who sing Rodgers and Hammerstein classics accompanied by orchestra. The tracks are then repeated as instrumentals for you to finally have your starring role and curtain call complete with standing ovation.

    Weird & Wonderful is a treat from London's Dress Circle Reocords. The CD, with 16 delightful comic songs that are a combination of English Music Hall and silly tongue-twisters [some with hilarious surprise endings], introduces composer and lyricist of the absurd, 27-year-old Alexander S. Bermange [Beauty and the Beast: The Singing Springing Lark, All the Divas of Arabia, Desires of Frankenstein, Stalin! The Musical]. Noted wordsmith Sir Tim Rice is such a fan he offered to do the brief sleeve notes. Unless you follow the casts of English musicals, the artists probably won't ring any bells, but you'll become an immediate fan of, say, David Kernan singing the clever "Wedding Night," Jessica Martin/"He Left Me For My Granny," Rosemary Ashe/"I Love to Sing," Liza Sadovy/ "I've Fallen In Love with A Sheep" and John Barr/"I Don't Know What Came Over Me." Amid all the frivolity, however, Bermange reveals a bittersweet side, as on Anna Francolini's track, "The Man Who I Long For," a blistering torch song. For more about the extraordinarily talented Bermange, visit www.bermange.co.uk.

    It appears Caroline, or Change won't be making change much longer, so to experience it again -- especially Tony nominee Tonya Pinkins' showstopping "Lot's Wife" -- you might want to get the Hollywood Records original cast recording. On Tuesday [August 10] at 5 P.M. book writer/ lyricist Tony Kushner, composer Jeanine Tesori and cast members Pinkins and Tony winner [Featured Actress] Anika Noni Rose will be signing at Borders at The Shops at Columbus Circle.

    Columbia Pictures' Spider-Man 2 is certainly one sequel that hasn't disappointed. If you haven't caught this fun-filled fantasy with incredible special effects, there's a reason to. It's been super-sized - and it will cost quite a bit more than 39 cents to enjoy. The summer phenomenon has been reformatted for IMAX. In Manhattan, it's showing several times a day at Loews Cineplex Lincoln Square.

    Since it was shot in wide-screen, it doesn't fill the entire six story high screen, but it's 80 feet across and about twice the size of the biggest standard screen around town. It's not in 3-D; however on the IMAX screen, when Peter Parker's flying through New York's skyscraper canyons or doing battle atop speeding subway cars, you might think it is. In that latter sequence somehow New York is confused with Chicago since NYC doesn't have an above ground rail system running miles through mid-town.

    There's quite a line-up of Broadway names on hand, too: Alfred Molina as the misguided and eventually villainous scientist Dr. Octavius, Donna Murphy as Mrs. Ock, J.K. Simmons, looking quite different than on TVs Oz and Law and Order, as Daily Bugle managing editor, Dylan Baker [Professor Connors], Cliff Robertson [Uncle Ben] and Gregg Edleman [Dr. Davis - blink and you might miss him], co-starring with Murphy in Wonderful Town.

    The biggest stage name, and you might be surprised to see her having so much fun in a fantasy based on a comic superhero, is international stage star Rosemary Harris, who plays Aunt May.

    Molina, currently in Fiddler On the Roof, confesses he always been a Marvel Comics fan. "I find their characters interesting," he says. "They have problems, but they're realistic." He explains that the special effects mechanics of playing Doc Ock were an education. "The breadth and imagination of the effects wizardry that went into how each movement of my character was mind-boggling," he explains. "It was absolutely fascinating and not like anything most of us get to do."

    He didn't see Doc Ock as a total villain. "[Director] Sam [Rami] was always eager for my input and opinions. I told him I wanted to make the character amusing, charming and, hopefully, someone the audience would like. That way, I felt when he has the transformation, it's that much more shocking."

    The English-born Miss Harris, who's won just about every conceivable theatrical honor world-wide [she's been nominated eight times for a Tony and won Best Actress honors for A Lion in Winter] is at the zenith of a spectacular career. Who would have thought that, well, at that certain age, she would be discovered by a new generation of admirers. "It's wonderful," she says, "to have fans who are four years old come up and say 'Are you really Peter Parker's aunt?' And when I say 'Yes,' I love it when their eyes get bigger and bigger. It's quite nice!"

    When Doc Ock literally sweeps Aunt May off her feet -- several stories high, he meets his match. She fights off his snarling tentacles with her umbrella. Amazingly, Miss Harris performed a majority of her stunts - even those when she was corseted into a harness and hanging from wires.

    "I was a bit miffed," says Miss Harris, "that my wonderful stunt double was going to do a lot of the harness maneuvers. So I asked Sam, 'Why not let me have a go at it?' At first they were reluctant. But I begged them to at least let me try. He and producer Laura Ziskin were reluctant, but they finally relented."

    She took "flight" downtown, near City Hall, suspended from wires that swooped her away in the arms of Spider-Man. The stunt brought traffic to a standstill as everyone gawked.

    Rami says, admiringly, "I've never seen an actress with as much gusto and gumption as Rosemary. What a trouper! She would just get on that wire and go on her wild ride. And the first thing she'd say afterwards was 'Let's do it again! Can I do it again?' She was completely fearless!"

    "I adored every minute of it," smiles Miss Harris. "It was the best feeling. I always knew I was in good hands.

    She notes that the only other time she'd ever flown "was when I played Peter Pan in an outdoor production, and that was a long time ago." How long ago? "Well, let me just say that I remember that I was airborne just as the Sputnik satellite was passing in the sky!"

    The debate will probably go on for a while over how much of Aristophanes was left after Burt Shevelove's "freely adapted" book for the 1974 premiere of Sondheim's The Frogs. And it's certainly raging about how much Shevelove remains after Nathan Lane "even more freely adapted." You can also debate the sparsity of musical numbers, especially in Act Two, but one thing you don't have to ask is, "Where are the clowns?" They're here.

    It's hard to steal from Lane and co-star Roger Bart, but Peter Bartlett, as Pluto, gets away with grand larceny. As he proved in last season's Never Gonna Dance and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told as well as Encores!'s Call Me Mister, he's a master of comic timing. And, oh, that face, that marvelous face! Here, he not only walks off with the scenery; he devours it.

    He gets stiff competition from master stand-up comic John Byner, "the man of a thousand impressions." After years of headling in clubs and on TV variety shows, it would appear he making his Broadway debut. He is so ab fab as the oarsman to hell and back that one regrets the journey to Broadway's taken so long.

    For six seasons, Daniel Davis as Niles the butler from hell kept TVs The Nanny bitingly funny with his blistering sarcasm. It was great to have him back in theater in The Invention of Love, but as Shaw, he's a revelation. In fact, unless you've seen the billing, you wouldn't know he's in the show. With that beard and wig, there's little recognition factor; and, vocally, he's lifted himself to a rarefied plane.

    You certainly can't miss Burke Moses. No wardrobe malfunction worries, either. He's fit as a fiddle and ready for his Heraklean labors. This is one performer who knows how to command a stage; and certainly one who doesn't need to be miked. Too bad he has his big number and disappears until the finale, some two hours later.

    Can this be a first: Nathan Lane getting the girl? And he not only gets her, but gets to plant two big wet kisses on her!

    Scott Siegel, producer/host of Broadway By the Year, says his audiences look forward to the "off mike" moments in his Town Hall series. With the help of a huge roster of daring Broadway and cabaret names, he's come up with an entire evening of unamplified vocalizing, Broadway Unplugged, one night only, September 27th at 8 P.M. at Town Hall.

    Some of the 25 and still counting artists onstage will be Christine Andreas, Chuck Cooper, B.J. Crosby, Davis Gaines, Cady Huffman, Marc Kudish, Jeff McCarthy, Euan Morton, Emily Skinner, Mary Testa and Tom Wopat.

    The box office opens after Labor Day, but you can book via TicketMaster, (212) 307-4100, or www.unplugged.Theatermania.com. Tickets are $25-$50.

    Byran Batt, well-remembered for his impersonations in Forbidden Broadway for which he received a Drama Desk nomination, has seemingly disappeared. After working Broadway and Off for over a decade [Seussical, the Musical, Beauty and the Beast, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Cats and many others - including originating the role of Darius Off Broadway, in L.A. and on film in Jeffrey].

    He explains that after a show was postponed indefinitely and a pilot wasn't picked up, it was time for a break. He's escaped to his native New Orleans. "I'm splitting my time between here and New York."

    After buying loads of Anne Rice's furniture at her garage sale, he's opened Hazlenut, an eclectic gift and home furnishings shop on Magazine Street in the trendy Warehouse District.

    He and partner Tom Cianfichi [he was in Forever Plaid forever and is known to be quite the chef*] rent a carriage house connected to a Garden District mansion. "Some of the floor bricks are stamped with the initials of the plantation where they were made," he says. "Strangely, they are my father's initials. I wonder if that's some kind of sign?"

    [* He worked for Rosie O'Donnell and Betty Buckley, so he must be good!]

    Batt explains he was asked to stand by for Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz. "I'd done that and, let's face it, if I paid to see Hugh, I'd ask for my money back if Bryan Batt was to go on in his place. The actor who took the job never got to go on to. If that happened to me, they'd be dredging the Hudson for my body!"

    Batt says the dog days of summer are redefined in the Cresent City. "It's hot, humid, rainy. When you go out, you arrive wringing wet! It's great to open a business in my home town, but I haven't given up New York. I could never give up acting. I love it, but my second love is home design, fashion and interior decorating."

    Visit his shop's website: www.hazelnutneworleans.com.

    The 8th Annual New York International Fringe Festival literally takes over downtown from the Lower East Side to the Village and even further West from August 13 to 29. Works from 30 U.S. cities and nine nations are being presented in over 20 downtown venues.

    Satisfaction isn't guaranteed. It's all about discovery. And you never know what you'll uncover. Recent Fringes gave us Urinetown, Matt and Ben; Debbie Does Dallas and The Joys of Sex.

    There's buzz circulating for Confessions of a Mormon Boy by/starring Steven Fries, directed by Tony Award-winning Jack Hofsiss [The Elephant Man]; Big Trouble in Little Hazzard by/starring Peter Katona and Greg Derelian, a parody from Yale of the The Dukes of Hazard sitcom featuring Remy Auberjonois [son of RenÈ Auberjonois] as Sheriff Roscoe; and Ron Palillo [Welcome Back, Kotter's Horshack] in Jack Dyville's comedy of the absurd Daddy Was the Biggest Stagemother in Texas. A couple of irresistible titles: Ooops! I Killed My Mother; Girl Gang.

    This is the Fringe so, of course, there are musicals. Among them: Die, Die, Diana; The Passion of George W. Bush; and Infertiility, you know, the musical that's hard to conceive. The Bicycle Men's Le Comedie du Bicyclette, a surreal, 75-minute mÈlange of whacked-out Beckettian characters with music, will arrive with raves from Chicago and L.A.

    Individual tickets are $15. Some events are already sold-out, so go, go, go. For information on plays, venues, times and discount packages, visit http://www.fringenyc.org/ or call (212) 279-4488.


    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

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