New York Post
Keepin’ it real
Broadway rips it’s stories straight from the headlines and bigger-than-life-characters
By BABARA HOFFMAN
Last Updated: 1:12 AM, March 27, 2013
For an industry that famously celebrates dreams, broken or fulfilled, Broadway is getting thrillingly real this spring. Hot on the high heels of â€œAnnâ€ and the hubcaps of â€œHands on a Hardbodyâ€ â€” about, respectively, the late governor of Texas andabunch of hard-pressed Lone Star Staters vying for a truck â€” come a slewof shows about real people: Motown singers, a Hollywood superagent, a newspaper columnist. And, in the case of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauperâ€™s â€œKinky Bootsâ€ (opening April 4), the owner of a failing shoe factory who gets a lift from a drag queen.
â€œThereâ€™s something that thrills us about seeing our history onstage,â€ says playwright Douglas Carter Beane. â€œEven Shakespeare wrote history plays!â€
Beaneâ€™s new play, â€œThe Nance,â€ opening April 15 at the Lyceum, sets a fictitious character in a real-life situation. Nathan Lane stars as a gay man who works in burlesque as a â€œnanceâ€ â€” a kind of homosexual blackface â€” at a time when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was shutting down burlesque houses to combat the â€œdeviancyâ€ of gay visibility.
â€œLa Guardia was a fantastic man,â€ Beane concludes, â€œbut even a politician you love can do something reprehensible.â€
Another larger-than-life character â€” brassy Hollywood talent agent Sue Mengers â€” will be reincarnated in â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last.â€ Starting previews April 5 at the Booth, itâ€™s a one-woman show starring the larger-than-life Bette Midler.
John Logan â€” the Tony winning writer of â€œRed,â€ about artist Mark Rothko â€” met Mengers in 2007, and was fascinated by her. Little wonder: After Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family, Mengers reportedly assured one of her clients, â€œDonâ€™t worry, honey â€” stars arenâ€™t being murdered, only featured players.â€
To research â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last,â€Logan says, â€œI read everything I could and interviewed scores of her clients, colleagues and friends and enemies, famous and nonfamous, pro-Sue and anti-Sue.â€And? â€œThey echoed my own response to her: a woman much more complicated than she first appears.â€
He and director Joe Mantello spent a lot of time with Midler, discussing how best to tell Mengersâ€™ story, and â€œBette jumped in courageously.â€
â€œI may get fewer invitations to Hollywood parties after the play comes out,â€ adds Logan, who grew up in California and New Jersey, â€œbut thatâ€™s not my natural turf anyway.â€
Maura Tierney is well aware that the woman she portrays is just an LIRR ride away: Alice McAlary, widow of former Post columnist Mike McAlary, whom Tom Hanks plays â€” with a sandy mustache â€” in Nora Ephronâ€™s â€œLucky Guy,â€ opening Monday at the Broadhurst.
Tierney says director George C. Wolfe discouraged the women from getting together until rehearsals were well under way.
â€œGeorge wanted us to figure out the characters on our own,â€ says the former â€œERâ€ star, â€œbut I just wanted to meet her. We had breakfast and chatted, and I asked if Mike had any pet names for her. He did. He called her â€˜Ali Baba.â€™ â€ That phrase is now in the play and, Tierney says, â€œI really want Alice to like it. I want her to be happy. Sheâ€™s very smart and really gracious!â€
Charl Brown feels the same way about Smokey Robinson, whom he plays in â€œMotown,â€ opening April 14 at the Lunt-Fontanne. Brown, whoâ€™s in his early 30s, says he first saw Robinson on â€œSesame Street.â€
â€œSmokey sang â€˜You Really Got a Hold on Meâ€™ with the letter U,â€ he says. â€œIt was one of my first memories!â€
Though the â€œMotownâ€ cast was encouraged to research their roles, he says, theyâ€™re not interested in impersonating Robinson, Berry Gordy, Diana Ross and other greats, because â€œit is theater and we need to bring our own sensibilities into it, as well.â€
Even so, Brown says he panicked one night when he heard the real Smokey was in the house. Afterward, he went into the audience â€” and Robinson greeted him with a hug. â€œIt was a great experience,â€ Brown says. Even better is the chance to feel like a legend, if only for a while.
â€œItâ€™s definitely making me smoother,â€ Brown says. â€œWe had our first preview the other night, and the crowd went up at the very mention of his name.
â€œThatâ€™s a good perk. I get topretend to be him and have his audience for a couple of hours every night!â€