Joan Rivers may or may not strike gold on Broadway in “Sally Marr … and her escorts.” But when the show opened last night she had already done the thing uppermost in her heart: fulfill a dream of her late husband, Edgar Rosenberg.
“The play was Edgar’s idea,” Joan told me this week. “And he was the one who kept on saying, ‘You’ve got to go back, you’ve got to go back to Broadway!’ ”
In fact, she is dedicating the show entirely to Edgar. (Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987. On May 15, NBC will air “Laughter and Tears,” the story of his death and aftermath. It stars Joan and their daughter, Melissa.)
“Now I’m finally taking my journey and I hope audiences come with me,” said Joan.
As for life after Broadway, Rivers would like nothing more than to be a full-fledged movie star.
“If Shirley MacLaine dies, I’ll do all her roles,” she joked.
She and producer Marty Richards have laundry lists of stars to replace Joan on Broadway if the play is successful. Her first choice is Bernadette Peters.
“Bette Midler also would be insanely good in it,” she added.
With a reworked finale and new lyrics to three songs, “Passion,” the new Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical, is heading confidently either for the Tony Award record books or the chopping block when it opens on Monday.
Sources say even some of the musical’s producers are divided about how it will be received by critics. But after countless revisions, the number of unintentional laughs that some lines got in early previews have trickled down to nearly none. And, every night, at least during the past week, “Passion” received standing ovations.
After nearly six weeks of previews, “Passion” was finally “frozen” Tuesday night.
“We had a lot of things go in yesterday,” said Jere Shea, the musical’s male heart-throb, who plays Giorgio. “Of course, during the performance we had our share of train wrecks!”
Another potential pitfall for the handsome actor: his wife, Elaine’s, reaction to his romantic interludes on stage. In one scene, for example, Shea and actress Marin Mazzle are naked and in the throes of, well, the tile of the show.
“Elaine and I have a lot of trust and respect for each other and we have a very solid marriage,” Shea told me. “She’s a rock.”
Perhaps not surprising, but the cast member quote here last week that “Richard (Chamberlain) is a superstar and Michael Moriarty is a stupid star” went over like a backstage mention of “Macbeth” with the publicity people at the now-defunct “My Fair Lady.”
Publicist Richard Kornberg even tacked up a note in the theater which said, in effect, that the person I quoted was disloyal and should get out of the theater.
In fact, this individual had the show’s best interests at heart and fervently wanted the brilliant “Law and Order” star to succeed. But he didn’t, showing that dramatic genius isn’t necessarily all it takes to cut it in a Broadway musical. It closed on Sunday, by the way.
“Michael had the guts and the drive and the commitment but, unfortunately, it didn’t work for him or for us,” producer Fran Weissler told me. “There are not too many fine, high-visibility actors who really sell seats. They are great actors but they simply don’t sell tickets.
“It was very hard to replace Richard Chamberlain. And it was very hard for Richard Chamberlain to replace Rex Harrison. A lot of stars didn’t want to replace Rex and some terrific actors didn’t want to replace Rex and Richard.”
Despite its losing last weeks on Broadway, Weissler told me that she and her husband, Barry, are going full steam ahead with plans for a road tour of the show.
But it’s unlikely, said Weissler, that Chamberlain would be on the tour.
“I would have like Richard to extend but he made certain demands which we felt were excessive and we couldn’t honor those,” Fran Weissler said.
Meanwhile, the Weisslers have something right around the corner to keep them plenty busy. Their production of “Grease,” starring Rosie O’Donnell, opens next Wednesday, and has a hefty $3 million “advance” – the dollar amount for tickets old for future performances.
With preview audience comments ranging from wildly enthusiastic to “The Best Little Snorehouse on Broadway,” Tommy Tune’s production of “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public” gets a gala opening night on Tuesday.
One unusual aspect of the show, though, seems to be getting universal raves – the small Las Vegas-style “Lunge act” performed by Susannah Blinkoff and Ryan Perry in the lobby before the actual show. (Blinkoff also happens to be the daughter of Carol Hall, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show.
After their lounge act, Brinkoff and Perry scurry to the orchestra pit where they join Nancy LaMott as the musical’s three “pit singers” – augmenting what’s being sung onstage.
“It’s such an unusual experience to have a mother in the same business,” Blinkoff told me. “I can’t even describe what a blessing it is to sing her songs.”
It appears that “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice,” which got creamed by several critics this week, won’t turn out to be the Little Broadway Show That Could – as some of its producers had hoped even with the negative notices. It’s expected to close tomorrow.
Peggy Hill Rosenkrantz, one of the show’s producers, said the $1.4 million show had an advance of $55,000 going into its opening week, not that bad for a straight play. But with the negative reviews, the show sold just $700 worth of tickets this past Monday, Rosenkrantz said, adding it needs to make $170,000 a week to break even.
But as of late yesterday, Roseroots told me that there “had been such an outcry” from “Little Voice” supporters that she and her fellow producers were having a meeting today to see if they could keep it open at least another week.
Too bad the producers didn’t do it off-Brodaway where the zany show about an introvert who can sing up a storm might have found a home – and an audience – for some months.
On Monday, “Girls Night Out,” Larry O’Daly’s long-running stand-up comedy TV series, will begin shooting in its new uptown home at the Blue Angel, 327 West 44th Street.
Each segment of “Girls Night Out,” which airs on Lifetime Television, features a different celebrity host, and, like Letterman, is shot before a live audience. O’Daly said he is trying to get “Grease” ’s Rosie O’Donnell to do the honors for a segment later this month.
Broadway investors often crop up in strange places. For example, Dick Button, the former Olympic figure skating champion-turned-broadcaster, was an investor in “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.”
And while it looks like this play will fall faster than Tonya Harding, there seems to be no stopping Button’s backing for the theater. “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” is actually the 43rd play in which he has invested.
“I’ve done well in the theater – better than the S&P index!” he told me. Sorry, I don’t have Button’s home number. Try CBS.
Source: On and Off Broadway column by Ward Morehouse III, New York Post, May 6, 1994.