Broadway To Vegas


Copyright: August 17, 1998
By: Laura Deni


The marvelous but beleaguered Broadway production The Scarlet Pimpernel is wooing singing superstar Celine Dion to join the cast.

Ted Forstmann, one of the original investors of the $10 million musical bought out the other investors in July and has some changes in the works.

While tickets are on sale through the end of the year, naysayers have been predicting closing notices almost since the curtain went up. Bringing in artists who achieved "superstar" status in entertainment arenas other than Broadway is one avenue used to turn a show around.

The production is marvelous with exceptional musical numbers by Nan Knighton and Frank Wildhorn.

Celine is hot. If she recorded any of three possible stand on their own numbers from The Scarlet Pimpernel the sales would be assured. Show executives hope that Celine coming on board can save the show.

Whether that's feasible is another question. Celine has outstanding concert contracts and costume alterations for her waif figure would be extensive. She is also desperate to become pregnant. If that happy event materialized, Celine would give top priority to maintaining a healthy pregnancy and thus her physician would have the last word.


GARTH DRABINSKY Photo By: Laura Deni
Garth Drabinsky is the 49-year-old exuberant, personable and inventive producer that was the creative vision behind Ragtime. His latest baby Fosse: A Celebration In Song and Dance, opened Sunday, August 9th in Toronto. The show is a real crowd pleaser. The bubbly Drabinsky threw an elaborate and expensive opening night party.

The next morning Drabinsky was still on a creative high from the previous night's success. He arrived at his Toronto office to find he'd be ousted from his $1 million-a-year-job, the locks on his office had been changed and security guards were cleaning out his files.

Many on Broadway wondered what took so long.

Others conceded that while Drabinsky has a creative edge that makes impossible projects succeed, he doesn't know beans about business. The "bean counters" have accused Drabinsky of cooking the books.

Drabinsky was suspended from the production company he founded, amid allegations that the financial bookkeeping was more fiction than fact.

Livent, Inc., the company he both founded and build admitted "serious irregularities" in financing dating back to 1996.

Pending an investigation Drabinsky and former CEO Myron Gottlieb were suspended. With millions of dollars in accounting problems, the possibility that the result could be default in Livent's $151 million debt resulted in Nasdaq putting a halt on trading.

Livent, (U.S.) Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toronto-based Livent, Inc, which was founded in 1989 by Drabinsky and Gottlieb, and is a leading producer of theatrical entertainment internationally.

Livent went public in Canada in 1993, and American in 1995 at $8 a share.

Additionally, Livent operates theatres in four key North American markets. Under the artistic leadership of Drabinsky, the Company's productions have won over 20 Tony Awards, including Best Musical for Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Best Musical Revival for Show Boat. Last June, entertainment financier Roy Furman and former Disney president Michael Ovitz bought controlling interest in Livent. The affable Drabinsky remained as creative chief.

Reacting to the news that Ovitz had invested $20 million to take financial control of Livent, Rocco Landesman, 50, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, told the New York Times, "I don't see Ovitz as having any day-to-day, hands-on, productive presence here. I think this is one in a portfolio of projects he has, where he's trying to make some money."

Jujamcyn, a company that owns five Broadway playhouses and is the third of the big three Broadway theater firms. The first two are Shubert and Nederlander.

Livent owns the Pantages Theatre in Toronto and the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver; operates, programs and manages the Ford Centre complex in Toronto; and is building a new venue in downtown Toronto.

Livant, the owner of the Ford Center in NewYork, announced it's taken over the 500-seat Times Square theater next door. It will renovate the house, built in 1920, into a theater for straight plays.

In Chicago, Livent is reconstructing the Oriental Theatre in the North Loop theatre district.

Cast of Fosse:A Celebration of Song and Dance
New musicals in development include Parade, which is being co-produced with Drabinsky by the head of Lincoln Center Theater, Bernard Gersten. The production, with a story line based around the famous 1913 Leo Frank trial in Atlanta, will be directed by Harold Prince.

Drabinsky's newest musical Fosse: A Celebration of Song and Dance has performances through August 29 at Toronto's Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The show then moves to Boston and Los Angeles before opening on Broadway.

Drabinsky's creative courage has never been in doubt. It's his high flying spending habits that caused raised brows and wagging tongues.

Nine years ago, Drabinsky and Gottlieb were booted from running Cineplex Odeon, a movie chain conglomerate. The reason: accounting irregularities. The pile of debts resulted in the Bronfman family, who controlled 24 percent of Cineplex, to give the pair their walking papers.

Martin Bell has temporarily taken over for Drabinsky, until a permanent creative director can be found. Names on a short list include Stewart Lane, co-owner of the Palace Theater, Kevin McCollum, co-producer of the musical Rent, and Rocco Landesman.


Dawson's Creek is the television series that captures the hormone rush of teenagers while driving parents to a state of angst. Of course the show is a hit, even surpassing Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the ratings.

James Van der Beek in Dawson's Creek
It's also the series that is shooting to super-stardom two heart-throb actors - James Van Der Beek and Michelle Williams.

The hunky Van Der Beek first stepped into the footlights in a community-theater production of Grease.The 13-year-old was living with his parents, Jim, a phone company employee, and mother, Melinda, a Broadway dancer turned gym teacher, and a brother and sister, in Cheshire, Conn. James commuted by train from Cheshire to New York City after school to rehearse for his off-Broadway debut in Edward Albee's Finding the Sun.

He did a musical at the Goodspeed Opera House, Shenandoah. From that he went into his feature film debut, an arrogant jock in Angus. He admits he was nervous when he auditioned for Dawson's Creek. He got the role and now, at 21, portrays the 15-year-old Dawson Leery, a small town teen trying to become the next great movie honcho.

Filmed on location in the small town of Willmington, North Carolina, the stars live there four to six months at a time. The boyish looking Van Der Beek seems to enjoy, while not taking too seriously, his rise as a sex symbol.

While many stars dread the long hours they must spend in the hair and make-up chairs, Van Der Beek describes that as the best part. That's because of the unusual crew. He mentioned one lady he described as a former motorcycle mama who got religion and came to Tennessee to become a gospel singer. In another revelation she decided her true calling was as a hair and make-up artist. Van Der Beek says he's enthralled by the stories she tells while he's getting all gussied up before each day's shoot.

His biggest worry is out-growing his part. He admits to being a little concerned, saying he knows he can play 17, but his character is that of a 15-year-old. At 21, Van Der Beek is worried about getting too old for the part. He shaves twice a day. He's fearful that his voice may sound too mature. From the response he's getting from rabid female viewers - he doesn't need to worry.

Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams, 17, is cast as Jennifer Lindley, the mini-skirted city girl who moves to the Dawson's Creek small town of Capetown to escape her party-girl past. Williams can also be seen starring opposite Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween H20.

She began her career in commercials at the age of 10. By the time she was 13 she was in the movies, the 1994 re-make of Lassie.

When she was cast in Dawson's Creek she was forced to move to Willmington, North Carolina in July 1997, where she was so unhappy being cut off from her friends that the crew nicknamed her Little Black Cloud. There is nothing quite like a hit television series and a major movie to brighten up a girl's depression.

Like so many teen-agers thrust into sudden stardom, Williams has developed an addiction. Only in her case the addiction is ... peanut butter. She has to have it every day.

As for the actual folks around that North Carolina burg, they have only nice things to say about the cast and crew. Recently the show, which resumes production this week, held auditions for extras and bit players. Aspiring thespians lined up around the block. We had our roving North Carolina correspondent, Trudy Knight-Peek, speak to some of the wanna-be Dawson's Creek participants. Knight-Peek reported that Mathew Dagle, who tried out for a bit part, but didn't make the cut, never-the-less enjoyed the experience. He even ate lunch with the cast and crew calling them "plain ordinary folks." That is, until the director yells "action" and then they turn into some of the hottest stars on television.


Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein and Linda Ronstadt. September 26 marks the 100th anniversary of the birthday of George Gershwin, America's most famous composer of concert music and popular song. In celebration of this event, Harrah's Hotel in Las Vegas is bringing together for the first time three of the premier interpreters of Gershwin's music for an exclusive engagement on August 28.

Songstresses Linda Ronstadt and Rosemary Clooney will join Michael Feinstein for The Intimate Gershwin: An Extraordinary Evening of American Popular Song.

What is going to be an incredible experience for the audience has turned into a nightmare for the hotel's publicity department. Reason? The event isn't open to the public.

This special treat is the culmination of Harrah's Biggest Nights Dream Tour. Harrah's, based in Memphis, is the largest casino company in America, operating 19 casinos. They held a contest for their casino customers. The hotel received over one million entries before the July 16th cut-off date.

The elaborate prize package for the 15 winners and their guests, will culminate with this special concert performance. The concert is being staged exclusively for Dream Tour winners and invited guests. This has caused big time headaches for the PR staff. Since publicity broke about the concert the hotel has been swamped with people wanting to purchase tickets. Told no tickets are for sale, the public relations office had to explain to the complaining public that this was a casino promotions event. The disappointment is enough to make a person contemplate becoming a high roller.

For those lucky stiffs who get in they'll find Ronstadt, Clooney and Feinstein on one stage, backed by a 30-piece orchestra, performing a selection of songs from the Gershwin repertoire, including Someone to Watch Over Me, I Got Rhythm, and The Man I Love.

"I'm very excited about singing with Linda Ronstadt and Michael Feinstein on the same show," said Clooney. "I admire them both so much musically, but it's rare that I get to sing with two people I love as much as I love them," added Clooney who admits she still get stage fright.

"The music is timeless because it's honest," continued Clooney, who has performed Gershwin numbers throughout her 53-year career and is a former next door neighbor and friend of Ira Gershwin.

"I think Ira felt George's music was so much more important than his words, but I disagree," Clooney said. "Every story that he tells matches the music perfectly."

Feinstein began his career as Ira Gershwin's personal assistant. His current release, Nice Work If you Can Get It, is a tribute to the Gershwin brothers. George Gershwin had a profound impact on the works of American and European composers. With Ira, who wrote the lyrics to nearly all of his songs, George became one of the first composers to intertwine jazz, European classical music, black folk music and other styles with popular song.

Feinstein is slated to perform his Then and Now program in a series of three concerts in the Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York on Dec. 2, February 24, 1999 and April 2, 1999.

Ronstadt also has Gershwin connections. Ronstadt, whose new album We Ran was released last June, has featured Gershwin numbers in past works including her interpretation of Someone to Watch Over Me, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra on Round Midnight.

Actually the three performers have previously been on the same bill. It was at Carnegie Hall in July, 1995. The event was a three day tribute called Carnegie Hall Celebrates the Music of Frank Sinatra. Michael Feinstein performed the first night. Clooney and Ronstadt were teamed on the third night. They each sang a short set before joining voices on But Not For Me. They haven't performed together since. The uniting of the three on the same stage at the same time is a first.

Linda, who turned 52 on July 15, made her stage debut in New York in the Gilbert and Sullivan classic The Pirates of Penzance. She also did the film version with Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury.

Ronstadt became a mother through "open" adoption, in which the parties "work out the details a day at a time. Her seven year old daughter traveled on the road with her mother until a brother, now four, joined the family. Since then Ronstadt has been spending more time at home.

The Las Vegas event is being put together by Allen Sviridoff and John Schreiber who also produces the Carnegie Hall annual American Popular Song Series.


Carnegie Hall kicks off the centennial celebration of George Gershwin next month with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Two concerts will be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The first, on Sept 23, is the Gershwin gala opening.

Next Jan 10 The Gershwin Circle will focus on the international impact of American pianism, that had George Gershwin and his music as a nucleus. The concert will feature the world premiere of Vernon Duke's Piano Concerto, written for Arthur Rubenstein, as well as works by Oscar Levant, George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel, performed by pianists Leon Bates, Scott Dunn, Alan Feinberg and Ursula Oppens.

Carnegie Hall also has a special tour in conjunction with the Carnegie Hall Gershwin Centennial Project. Called Gershwin Offstage at Carnegie Hall, the event includes a tour of the Hall focusing on Gershwin appearances, a vintage New York theme menu, and an all-Gershwin performance by a Broadway star or artist. For information on public tours call Carnegie Charge at (212) 247-7800.


A wonderful 1971 television special called `S Wonderful, `S Marvelous, `S Gershwin, had an original cast recording - Stereo DR-1009 - produced for Daybreak Records by Sonny Burke, who also wrote the liner notes.

The television production and album starred Jack Lemmon, Fred Astaire, Leslie Uggams and Peter Nero, with Larry Kert, Linda Bennett, Robert Guillaume, Alan Johnson and the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra.

It was produced by Joseph Cates and Martin Charnin.

I'm not going to believe that one of the participants didn't keep a copy.

It would be a fitting tribute and downright pleasurable for the viewing audience, if that Bell System Family Theatre special could be re-broadcast. Turning the album into a CD isn't a bad idea, either.


Every wonder what those gorgeous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes do when they aren't synchronizing their leg moves? Stephanie Wahl picked summer theatre. The leggy beauty, who usually is high kicking during the Radio City Christmas Show, is quite an accomplished actress. She's currently starring in Perfect Wedding at the Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina. Our roving North Carolina reporter, Trudy Knight-Peek, checked it out.

"It's hysterical," reported Knight-Peek about the play. "The alarm goes off. It's your wedding day. The groom wakes up in the Honeymoon Suite with an unknown woman - a knot on his head and doesn't remember anything. The suite is booked for the bride to get ready and she is due any minute," explained Knight-Peek about the plot of the play, written by Robin Jawdon.

Wahl is cast as the bride. "She was a barrel of laughs," Knight-Peek commented. Among Wahl's credits are touring internationally with Oklahoma, Will Rogers Follies, and Sugar Babies, in which she starred with Mimi Hines.

That's the same Mimi Hines who was the better half of Phil Ford and Mimi Hines. They spent over 20 years headlining in Las Vegas, as well as being one of the comedy duo superstars during the Golden Age of television.

Perfect Wedding is directed by Robin Farquhar, who selected the play because the author is "one of the few playwrights who can write a farce in which the plot does not require the audience to constantly suspend their disbelief."

The director is also using this play as a pre-martial counseling tool. "As fate would have it, I am personally taking the marital plunge this October. Hopefully, my experience directing this show will enable me to avoid some of the pitfalls and pratfalls endured by the bridegroom."

The cast also includes; Janie Bushway, Wayne Tetrick, Neela Wortendyke, Stacey Harris, Scott Treadway and Michael Edwards.

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Roy of Siegfried and Roy with Prosperity
No, it's not Monica. That's the Oval Office. You probably didn't even know that the United States Senate has a mascot. Well, we do. She's long legged, with gorgeous eyes.You rub her the right way, she purrrs. Yeah, they all do.

Like so many that are "that kind" a rich guy took her traveling on a private jet for the purpose of shacking her up with two males.

Last Wednesday Roy of Siegfried and Roy hopped on a private jet with 7-month old white lioness, Prosperity, and flew to Cincinnati. Prosperity will now prosper in the famed Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

She even gets to make whoopee with the two males - hopefully becoming a mother.

Prosperity's Christmas Day birth took place at the birthing facility of the Secret Garden at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.

She weighed just 2 pounds, 13 ounces. Her life in danger, Roy cleaned her, wrapped her in a blanket and kept her alive by caring for her 24 hours a day, feeding her with an eyedropper.

Prosperity soon became a thriving miracle and was named the official mascot of the United States Senate.

This is one time we can show pride when our elected officials fondle a cuddly female.

COLIN QUINN makes his Broadway debut Aug. 25 when his one-man show Colin Quinn - An Irish Wake, opens at the Helen Hayes Theater, with performances through Sept. 19. Quinn first presented the show in a workshop format at Manhattan's Irish Arts Center in 1994, in a production called Sanctifying Grace. The show which has been expanded for Broadway has Quinn playing people from the Brooklyn Irish neighborhood of his childhood. When Saturday Night Live gave Norm Macdonald the heave-ho, Quinn is the comedian who was tapped to replace him as the "Weekend Update" anchor.

THE HARLEM JAZZ AND MUSICAL FESTIVAL is in full swing. If you're lucky enough to be near Grant's Tomb today (Monday, Aug. 17) you'll find cast members of The Lion King, performing numbers from that hit show in Broadway Salutes Harlem. Lillias White, who won a Tony Award for The Life will be belting out the bluesy Dinah Washington songs she's currently performing in the marvelous show Dinah Was. Lillias also came close to stealing the show when she recently performed in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I don't think there was a performance where she didn't receive a standing ovation.

VISITING MR GREEN Jeff Baron's off-Broadway hit comedy about an elderly man who befriends a younger man who almost killed him in an auto accident, celebrates its 300th performance on Wednesday, Aug. 19. Originally starring Eli Wallach, the production currently stars Hal Linden and can be enjoyed at the Union Square Theater.

SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS opens tonight, Monday, Aug. 17, presented by the Sacramento Light Opera Assoc. Production runs through Aug. 23. The season closes with South Pacific in an Aug. 24-30 engagement.

ART the Tony Award winning play will soon have a new cast of players. Brian Cox, who last appeared on Broadway as a sarcastic drama critic in St. Nicholas, will replace Alan Alda. Henry Goodman, who recently starred in Guys and Dolls, replaces Victor Garber. And David Haig, who was in Four Weddings and a Funeral, will take over the Alfred Molina role.

NANCY SINATRA has pulled on her boots, grabbed her hair spray and tease comb and returns to the stage, performing tonight, Aug. 17, at L.A.'s House of Blues. Then she'll walk on over to the infamous Viper Room and strut her musical stuff Monday, Aug. 22.

CAESARS PALACE Las Vegas was where NBC Television decided to tape their World's Greatest Magic show. Two shows were taped and everyone receiving a free ticket was required to wear cocktail attire. The show features the delightful Harry Anderson, Japan's Koichi Sugaya, who transforms a Japanese doll into a real girl. Hanss Klok, Europe's leading illusionist, slides through an industrial fan without turning into confetti. Also on the TV special, Canadian stars The Evansons and Magic Unlimited - three young superstars from The Netherlands.

SPLEEN VENTING On the same bill - Joan Rivers and Don Rickles Aug. 21 at the Pine Knob Music Theatre in Detroit.

SING ALONG When Brooke Shields starred on Broadway in Grease Andre Agassi memorized her entire part. He'd sit in the audience and both astound and annoy other audience members by reciting her lines. Now, this fun loving duo has become mesmerized by - as well as memorizing - the off-Broadway hit I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.They saw the show twice last year in New York. Then Agassi caught the Laguna, California production two more times. He is so into the show that he even got some personal coaching from cast members Robert Roznowski and Jennifer Simard, who segued into the Laguna cast from their Broadway roles. As a "thank you" Andre flew them to Las Vegas to see Siegfried and Roy. The Andre Agassi Gala, which benefits children at risk, takes place Sept 26 in Las Vegas at the MGM-Grand Hotel. Last year Brooke promised that she would sing during this year's event. Could it be that Brooke and Andre are considering performing a ditty from the show?


MICKEY ROONEY has come out with his own line of cigars. Since his body appears to be pre-shrunk we're guessing he's not worried that smoking the stogies will stunt his growth.

Next Column: August 24, 1998
Copyright: August 17, 1998. All Rights Reserved. Reviews, Interviews, Commentary, Graphics, Original Photographs from any Broadway To Vegas (TM) columns may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, utilized as leads, or used in any manner without permission, compensation and/or credit.
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Laura Deni

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