Top Oz stars back on the boards

H'wood Aussies come home for shows

SYDNEY — Theater companies Down Under are rubbing their hands with glee as they contemplate their 2002 seasons, rich with homegrown Hollywood headliners, including Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths and Geoffrey Rush.

Intl. Concert Attractions and Lawson Vass have signed model-thesp Elle Macpherson for a seven-week season of David Hare’s “The Blue Room” from Feb. 6 at Sydney’s 1,150-seat Theater Royal. Macpherson will play the roles famously taken by Nicole Kidman in London and on Broadway, opposite TV drama thesp Paul Bishop.

Melbourne Theater Co. artistic director Simon Phillips, who will direct “The Blue Room,” has put together a star-studded season for the MTC. Rush will co-star with wife Jane Menelaus in Yasmina Reza’s “Life x 3.” Pearce will topline Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth,” and Griffiths stars in David Auburn’s “Proof.” David Wenham, co-star of recent Toronto Film Fest opener “Dust,” will star in Sam Shepard’s “True West.”

Phillips concedes scheduling the limited three- to four-week seasons around the actors’ film commitments proved a “nightmare” that required the company to “remain fluid until the 11th hour.”

Anticipating boffo B.O. and a boost to the company’s profile, Phillips is confident local auds and subscribers will relish the opportunity to see Hollywood actors up close.

Phillips last directed Rush and Menelaus in “The Importance of Being Earnest” for the MTC in 1988. During the ’90s, Pearce and Griffiths also trod the boards for the MTC, but as their film careers have flourished the actors have spent less time at home.

In Oz, the minimum wage for theater actors committed to eight perfs a week is A$681 ($345), and Phillips says the topliners will be paid not much more than that. “Money is never part of the dialogue,” Phillips says. “It’s part of the deal of coming to work for a subsidized theater company like this.”

MTC’s season kicks off Dec. 28 with the world premiere of local scribe Joanna Murray-Smith’s “Bombshells,” with Caroline O’Connor (“Moulin Rouge”) portraying a series of outrageous portraits of women barely coping with the stresses of modern life. Murray-Smith’s “Honour” was briefly seen on Broadway a few seasons back.

Melbourne’s innovative Playbox Theater will stage the world premiere of Murray-Smith’s “Rapture.” As-yet-uncast script explores the reactions of some well-heeled thirtysomethings when one of their group finds God.

For its 2003 season, Company B Belvoir has secured Rush to headline a project — currently referred to as “Plan B!” — directed by the company’s artistic director, Neil Armfield (“Cloudstreet”).

The Sydney Theater Co.’s 2002 season features four world premieres, including Nick Enright’s “A Man With Five Children”; David Williamson’s “Soulmates,” directed by Gale Edwards; Tony McNamara’s “The Virgin Mim”; and “Hanging Man,” scribe Andrew Upton’s theatrical debut with an original work. Upton, husband of Cate Blanchett, previously adapted “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Don Juan” for the STC.

Expat Michael Blakemore will direct a new production of Michael Frayn’s “Copenhagen,” starring Colin Friels and John Gaden.

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