EW Staff
January 25, 2002 AT 05:00 AM EST

THE GRADUATE
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

While a devilish John Lithgow Sweet talks, a saucy Kathleen Turner sends Jason Biggs to Graduate school

Where did we go right? Every self-doubting Broadway producer (and isn’t that all of them?) who’s ever stumbled onto a hit chews over that question. But after last year’s Producers juggernaut, even Bialystock and Bloom would be sage enough to see the sudden stage potential in classic films. So ready yourself for a Great White Wave of remakes, starting with Sweet Smell of Success and The Graduate. Just don’t expect, in the case of the former, a rote retelling of the movie. Sweet Smell, due March 14, begins with the story of how J.J. Hunsecker (John Lithgow), that slippery gossip columnist, first met flack Sidney Falco (Brian d’Arcy James)—a back story you never see in the film. ”Before your eyes you see J.J. seducing Sidney—and J.J. seduces the audience, too,” Lithgow says. ”Then you realize he’s the prince of darkness.” Oh, and one other big change: It’s now a musical. But fans of the dazzling dialogue of the 1957 Burt Lancaster-Tony Curtis movie needn’t worry. ”’Match me, Sidney’; ‘cookie full of arsenic’; ‘syrup on waffles’—all those good lines are still in there,” Lithgow promises. ”And they just tumble out.”

Like Kathleen Turner’s private parts in The Graduate. This April, Turner reprises her revealing star turn, originated last year in London. But this time Mrs. Robinson has new kids to booze around: Alicia Silverstone, hopefully not Clueless as Elaine, and Jason Biggs, filling some big shoes as pasty paramour Benjamin Braddock. ”He auditioned and was lovely,” Turner says. ”When he was leaving, he asked if he swept me off my feet. I said, ‘Well, yes!”’ As for Biggs, the challenge was getting comfortable (reeeal comfortable) with Turner on stage. Of course, this is a guy with a film resume full of awkward sexual encounters. ”I consider myself an actor who’ll do just about anything for the good of production, within parameters of good taste or humor,” he says. ”And after American Pie, it’s like, s—, I can do anything now, you know?”

A SLEW OF SONDHEIM
The bewitching Into the Woods spells the start of a Steve love-fest

Watch for witches, bloodletting barbers, and witty (if weary) urbanites in what will be a sizzling season of Sondheim. At 71, composer Stephen Sondheim is still considered the musical theater’s most monumental force. Washington’s Kennedy Center validates that claim with an ambitious and seldom-before-attempted Sondheim festival. Beginning in May, six (six!) of the writer’s gloriously intricate shows (including Sweeney Todd, Company, and Merrily We Roll Along) will run in repertory, which should be dizzying—”and difficult,” says frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine. ”I can’t wait to see how they pull that off.” This year, we may also see productions of the newly minted musical Gold! (formerly Wise Guys) and the oft-postponed Assassins. But the season’s towering achievement (due to open in Los Angeles Feb. 10, and on Broadway April 25) should be the full-scale revival of Sondheim’s storybook spectacular Into the Woods, starring Vanessa Williams as the witch. ”It’s a show about morality and responsibility and community,” says writer-director Lapine, ”and those are certainly subjects on people’s minds.” Although the production was being prepared long before Sept. 11, ”there are some pretty dark moments,” says Williams, ”but everyone can identify with the fairy-tale characters: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk. And there’s a lot of humor—and, of course, the music, too…I mean, please.” While much of the score is lilting, if not Disneyesque, Sondheim’s songs make infamous demands on a singer. ”Just note-wise, his intervals and harmonies and layering in terms of melody lines are pretty complicated,” says Williams, freely admitting ”It takes a while to kind of crack the code.”

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