LONDON — Jessica Lange has been tapped to play Amanda Wingfield on the West End, a move that cements Lange’s status as the standard-bearer of her generation in scaling the American theater’s defining female roles. Only the late Jessica Tandy comes to mind as an obvious point of comparison.
“There’s no timetable,” says Bill Kenwright, who will produce Lange’s London stand in “The Glass Menagerie,” as he did “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” for the double Oscar-winning thesp. But, he adds, “it’s more than a hope.”
One determining factor will be whether or not Lange does repeat on Broadway her Mary Tyrone in some further incarnation of the O’Neill masterwork. “Is there any way I would bring Jessica Lange and (director) Robin Phillips over (to London) without having the Broadway rights” to O’Neill’s play? asks Kenwright, reviving a presumably dormant issue. “I’d have to be a buffoon, wouldn’t I?”
And while Kenwright is well aware that the David Richenthal-Robert Falls-Brian Dennehy production looks like the “Long Day” that will journey first to Broadway, the London producer offers a personal caveat: “Anyone who plays Mary Tyrone after that performance (from Lange) is potty.”
Meanwhile, Kenwright is busying himself with another American classic: Anthony Page’s imminent remounting of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” starting previews Sept. 5 at the Lyric and marking Brendan Fraser’s London theater debut as Brick. The production, capitalized at £450,000 ($650,000), is expected to open to an advance sale in the region of $350,000 — “very pleasing,” says Kenwright, “in this climate.”
The crunch, he acknowledges, will come with maintaining consistently high attendance throughout the limited run. The Tennessee Williams remounting must play to “over 80%,” says its producer, “for us to even wash our face.”
‘ Humble’ transfer on tap
Look for a January West End transfer for “Humble Boy,” the Charlotte Jones National Theater sellout (see review, page TK) that has quietly surfaced as far and away the hottest straight play ticket in town. (The NT repertory stand ends Dec. 8.)
Matthew Byam Shaw — who, with Jones’ previous director Anna Mackmin, co-commissioned the script — will co-produce with ACT Prods., while Byam Shaw cites Emanuel Azenberg, Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams among American producers who have already shown trans-Atlantic interest during the play’s first month on the boards.
Byam Shaw puts the estimated cost of a West End engagement in the vicinity of $450,000, with a Shaftesbury Avenue house his hoped-for venue of choice. The play’s name cast includes Diana Rigg, who is a West End regular, and Simon Russell Beale, who is not. (Virtually all of Russell Beale’s mightily impressive resume has been forged in the subsidized theater.)
Nonetheless, argues Byam Shaw, “Simon has got to be a West End name; if he’s not, then we should all go home.”
That’s all, folks
Speaking of “Humble Boy,” how’s the following thespian entry for a humble program biog, the likes of which has scarcely been seen on either side of the Atlantic since Mickey Rooney in “Sugar Babies” summed up an entire career in a dozen or so words:
“Diana Rigg has been around for a very long time, and this is the sixth time she has coupled with Denis Quilley.” That’s all she wrote.
‘Sons’ tops visitor poll
Staying with the National, the complex made a clean sweep Aug. 3 of the annual Berkeley Awards, a deeply unofficial polling of 40 or so theater buffs who took in 15 shows (in some cases, many more) during their yearly summer immersion in London legit.
Howard Davies’ significantly recast revival of “All My Sons” was named in the categories of best overall production and best actress (Laurie Metcalf), while Ben Daniels’ Chris Keller tied for best actor with Ron Cook, who plays the title role in Patrick Marber’s “Howard Katz.”
Nicholas Hytner’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” won Hytner the director prize, with the same show’s Ashley Martin-Davis cited for best design. In the overall scheme of awards, do the Berkeleys matter? Perhaps not, but bear one thing in mind: these drama buffs were the first group two seasons ago to fete Stephen Dillane for his perf in “The Real Thing” well before the Tom Stoppard revival won the same actor a Drama Desk and a Tony.
A new Mrs. R readies for her closeup
Linda Gray makes her West End debut Oct. 1 as the fifth Mrs. Robinson to tread the Gielgud Theater boards in “The Graduate,” following where Kathleen Turner, Jerry Hall, Amanda Donohoe and Anne Archer dared to disrobe. The “Dallas” star will lead the cast for 18 weeks, through Feb. 2, with David Nicolle and Sarah Solemani joining the company at the same time to play Benjamin and Elaine.
How many more Mrs. Robinsons can one play take? Co-producer Sacha Brooks concedes that Terry Johnson’s adaptation of the 1967 film and its source novel may be nearing the end of its natural life. (In London, that is: Plans are afoot for productions in 20 countries over the next two years.) “We can’t keep the standard forever,” says Brooks, adding, “this ain’t the new ‘Art.’ “