The Siegel Column

The Real Story of Applause

Looking back at the recent Encores! production of Applause, the biggest takeaway isn't the miscasting of Christine Ebersole, it's the gutsy professionalism of Ms. Ebersole. She might not have been the ideal person to step into the role made famous first by Bette Davis in All About Eve and then Lauren Bacall in the musical version of the same story. But once she had the part, Ebersole won the hearts and minds of thousands of theatergoers by playing the role while she was as sick as a dog. The fact is, she still sounded better than Lauren Bacall ever did, but that's another story.

Ebersole wasn't the only one who was ill during that short descent into Kleenexville. She was just the most famous. Almost all of the cast caught some version of the bug but they all troupered on. Chip Zien had a sore throat. Erin Davie had a cold. If City Center had an infirmary, it would have been full. It's a credit to the whole cast, but especially Ms. Ebersole, that the show went on. Any criticism of this production should be tempered, therefore, with a keen sense of sympathy. It's one thing to be sick during the run of a long play. It's quite another to be sick during the only time the play is going to go on.

That said, some of the delightful surprises included hearing Kate Burton sing (just a little bit), finding that Chip Zien remains untouched by time, and that the book and score of Applause are formidable; the show only awaits the right cast - and the right time - to return to Broadway.

On the down side, having nothing to do with anyone's illness, the extended "Applause" number that referenced so many other musicals was a head-shaking mistake. The number was made too long, and except for the beginning, not particularly funny.

It's nice to see Erin Davie get a big chance as Eve Harrington but the jury is still out on her because this production didn't quite jell. And, even miscast, Ms. Ebersole is a great talent and is fun to watch. When all is said and sneezed, she earned her applause.

Another Revival: The Crucible

Every now and then you get to see a great play. Most of the time they are revivals. And it's those revivals of magnificent works like Arthur Miller's The Crucible, currently in a small but mighty production at the Arclight Theatre, that finally give one a sense of perspective on the current crop of new plays. Frankly, most of the new plays don't measure up!

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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