Greetings PopWatchers! Welcome to EW.com’s brand-new, biweekly column devoted solely to the stage (show queens rejoice!), and a fine place to start in the wake of Labor Day weekend is to spotlight those workhorse types who step into long-running shows, often with very little rehearsal, and try to make firm imprints on well-established roles. So let’s jump right in and take a look at some shows with legs that have a few new gams on display:
Legally Blonde: This one is perhaps the most high-profile replacement casting of the year, thanks to MTV’s reality series chronicling the tireless search for the next Elle Woods. I wasn’t a big fan of the TV show – if actual casting was this defeating, antidepressants would be handed out at casting guru Bernie Telsey’s door – and was apprehensive about anyone being able to duplicate original star Laura Bell Bundy’s “Positive”-ly aces Elle, a physically and vocally demanding part that’s neck-and-neck with Patti LuPone’s Gypsy as Broadway’s most arduous current gig. But – surprise! – Bailey Hanks (pictured, center), the 20-year-old Southern belle winner, has put her own twist on Elle, using a combination of youthful physicality and cheery optimism. Not only is she a joy to watch, but she’s age-appropriate for the part, too.
Monty Python’s Spamalot: 7th Heaven’s Stephen Collins and Dancing with the Stars champ Drew Lachey (pictured, left) have brought fresh energy to a show that’s been running since February 2005, and they’re doing it without going too far over the top. Spamalot is the kind of show that almost begs its performers to mug incessantly, yet amazingly, Collins and Lachey resist the urge, and playing King Arthur and his put-upon flunky Patsy respectively, they are the cuddliest duo I’ve seen in the roles to date. The guys bounce off each other with complete, gleeful ease, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone utter “Awww” after their (sort of) Act II duet “I’m All Alone.”
Xanadu: The teenyHelen Hayes Theatre on Broadway has been often standing room only since Whoopi Goldberg has joined the cast. But rumors of cuecard reading be damned (reportedly, she needed them for her first fewperformances), the Whoop is injecting her characteristic drollness into the role of saucy sister muse Calliope. And while Goldberg still seems to finding acharacterization in there (particularly in her smaller, secondary roleas Aphrodite), I actually preferred the one-time Oscar winner to her on-stage sparring partner, MaryTesta, who milks a laugh until its udder bleeds.
Goldberg’s additions to the script – asking the audience for a dollar to put in Testa’s toga, throwing in a new lineabout a missing thong – showcase a comedic edge that hasn’t been dulled by having to sit across from Barbara Walters every day. Whoopi’sunflappable too. My visit was one of the most unusual only-in-thetheater nights I’ve ever had: Patti Murin subbed for star KerryButler, and a mere 15 minutes into the show, costar Cheyenne Jackson had toabruptly depart thanks to an allergy attack, leaving hisunderstudy Curtis Holbrook (the show’s tremendous tap dancer) to exithis own role and step in…opposite Murin, Holbrook’s real-life girlfriend!Yet Whoopi never missed a beat, even with Huey Lewis sitting mere feetaway (eyeballing Tony Roberts’ elder statesman role perhaps? Hmm…).
So PopWatchers, have you managed to catch any of the above performers in their current Broadway runs, and if so, what did you think? Who have been some of your favorite replacement actors in previous stage roles? And has any actorever completely ruined a show you once loved?
Also, be sure to go to the comments section below and tell us what you’d like tosee covered in future editions of The Footlights! Untilthen, the ghostlight is on…