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Broadway Bound

Episode 25

NATHAN LANE WANTS TO PLAY
BILLY FINN?

Legendary Leading Lady to Rehearse at New Off Broadway Namesake Theatre
12-JUL-98

Legendary leading lady Drema Paige is returning to the New York theatre scene this fall after an absence of 25 years. "Darling, after touring all over the world for a quarter of a century," says the vivacious Paige, "I'm ready to plant my tired old - that is - I'm ready to come home to New York. And now I've got a theatre named after me, I might just stick around for a while."

Miss Paige officially holds the title, awarded by the Guinness Book of World Records, of "Hardest Working Actress on Broadway," based on her appearance - usually in a starring role - in at least one production on Broadway every single season from 1931 to 1972.

Miss Paige will co-produce, with Neverland Theatricals, and star in the premier of Wilbur Valentine's two character play The Rehearsal. "It's about NoŽl Coward rehearsing Laura Hope-Crews to play Judith Bliss in the Broadway premier of Coward's comedy Hay Fever, which is all about the romantic antics of an English bohemian theatrical family. Lots and lots of sex, you know. It's wonderful! It's funny too - all the sex scenes, I mean. I play Laura Hope-Crews and we've found a marvelous young actor, David E. Leigon, to play NoŽl Coward. We've got J. B. Howard to direct and George David to design the set, Mildred Turtle for costumes, and Clara McComiskey for lights."

The New Drema Paige Theatre The Rehearsal will be the inaugural production for Neverland Theatricals new 499 seat Off Broadway theatre, to be christened The Drema Paige Theatre in a ceremony scheduled for 2 P.M., Thursday, July 16. The ceremony and reception are open to the public and tours of the new theatre will be available immediately following. Neverland Theatricals has not released any details about the Drema Paige Theatre other than the capacity, 499 seats, and that the Women's Rest Room is decorated in pink marble with gold fittings, and has 36 toilets, by far the largest number of facilities for any Off Broadway theatre in New York.

Currently, the only legit theatres in New York named for actresses are the Ethel Barrymore, the Helen Hayes, the Lucille Lortelle in the village, and half of the Lunt-Fontanne. Maxine Elliot's, Nazimova's, the Edyth Totten, and the Princess, which was named for Lucille La Verne for a very short period in the 1920's, are all long gone.

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Back at the office . . .

Wouldn't it have been better to have done two releases - one about the theatre and another about The Rehearsal? More coverage that way.

"Darling, I know. I did! But you know how snippy Bobby at Theatre News On-Line gets about space. Anyway, look at the bright side. They'll probably end up re posting it at least a dozen times, like they do with everything else. I've got commitments from all the papers to cover the dedication and reception Thursday. The Times may want to do a special on the theatre for the Sunday Arts and Leisure. Call them tomorrow about it."

Good.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you, while you were in the hospital Nathan called about Neverland. He wants you to call him back."

Who?

"Lane. Nathan Lane. I sent him a copy of Neverland and he liked it. He loves the idea of doing it as a musical. He sees himself as Billy Finn. I put his number in LA on your desk."

Isn't he doing some TV series on the coast?

"Not for long from what I hear. None of the episodes they've filmed so far are all that good and the network's already grumbling about pulling it from the fall line-up. It all sounds to me like, as a career move, he's hedging his bets and looking for a sure-fire project to bring in immediately if they yank the series. You could probably get him to open Neverland with a year commitment if you can get it into production by early spring. Any chance of that?"

Last week I would have said no. Now, I'm not so sure. It may be possible.

"How so?"

Last Tuesday morning, when I introduced our young writer to our young composer, they spent an hour in polite conversation sniffing and growling at each other. I dragged them upstairs to the piano in the big rehearsal room so they could noodle around with some of the lyrics he had already written. Drema, it was the scariest thing I've ever seen. Within two minutes they were working with each other like they had been working with each other for twenty years. It's like they're reading each other's minds. They've been working up there around the clock for the last five days.

"Is it good?"

I don't know. I haven't dared go in and break their concentration. Once or twice each day I'll go up and stand in the hall and just listen. I think it's good - damn good. But it's too early to tell. All I'm doing right now is paying the delivery boy who shows up every couple of hours with coffee and pizza.

"Hummm. I would return Nathan's call if I were you. And buy a lottery ticket."

You believe in luck. I'm not sure I do.

"I'd still return Nathan's call."

I will. But . . . you've read the script. Can you really see Nathan Lane as Billy Finn? I just can't bring that picture into focus yet.

"You don't do much casting, do you?"

Not really, no. I've always left that to the director.

"Forget about all your preconceptions. Ignore the picture of Billy Finn you have in your mind."

Okay.

"What are the requirements for the role? What must the actor playing Billy Finn be able to do? Does he need to sing?"

Yes, of course.

"Does he need to have a trained voice or just be able to carry a tune?"

Trained voice. He's going to have a lot of numbers in the show.

"Any particular range? Baritone? Tenor?"

Who knows? They haven't finished writing the songs yet.

"Does he need to be able to act?"

He better be able to act. He carries the whole show.

"Do comedy?"

Yes.

"Dance?"

Yes.

"Any particular style?"

Tap definitely. I'm quite sure there will be a ballet number. Maybe a little jazz.

"Any oddball requirements? Tightrope walking? Juggling?"

No.

"What does the script say Billy looks like?"

There isn't any physical description.

"Any implied description?"

What do you mean?

"Does Billy have any romantic scenes? Does he need to be what we used to call a Matinee Idol?"

No. Not right now, anyway.

"Then you don't want to cast him as drop dead gorgeous. If the actor playing Billy is too good looking, the audience will get pissed if he doesn't get laid. Is there any reason why we would need the audience to hate Billy?"

No. He's very likeable. They need to like him at first sight.

"Then you want an actor who doesn't look weird."

Weird?

"Seven feet tall or way too short or anorexic or fat with more or less than the usual number of appendages."

Drema!

"Darling, I've just finished with the cattle calls for my show. You wouldn't believe the humanity I've seen in the last week. So Billy is just an average likeable guy, right?"

Right.

"Okay. I don't know about the ballet, but otherwise there isn't anything that would prevent Nathan from playing the part."

I'll call him. I'll call him. It sounds like you had an interesting time casting your NoŽl Coward.

"Nobody knows how to audition anymore. Maybe one in a hundred has some vague notion that an audition is really a job interview and approaches it in the right way. The sad part is a lot of these kids could make a good impression and get hired, if they had any idea what was really going on."

Like this kid you hired to play Coward?

"He did everything right. I had three on the short list, any of whom could have handled the part. He got it because he did his research."

What clinched it?

"He picked his nose with his ring finger, exactly the way NoŽl always did."

Michael Shurtleff has been casting director for Broadway shows like Chicago and Becket and for films like The Graduate and Jesus Christ Superstar. His legendary course on auditioning has launched hundreds of successful careers. Now, in Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part, he tells the all-important how for all aspiring actors, from the beginning student of acting to the proven talent trying out for that chance-in-a-million role.


Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part
by Michael Shurtleff
List Price: $6.99
Bantam Books
ISBN: 0553272950


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