‘Barefoot’ beginnings

“It’s a one-two punch, and then three strikes you’re out,” jokes Jill Clayburgh.

Probably not. After a 20-year absence, the actress returns to Broadway in not one but two productions: Richard Greenberg‘s latest, “A Naked Girl on the Appian Way” (Oct. 6), and a revival of Neil Simon‘s “Barefoot in the Park” (winter 2006). Clayburgh’s excuse for avoiding the stage is fairly standard for a woman her age. “I found it hard to do theater when I was raising a family,” she says. “When kids are in school, the only time you see them is in the evening.”

While Michael and Lily Rabe may be responsible for having kept Clayburgh away from Broadway, the daughter of playwright David Rabe has helped bring her mother back to legit. “What really got me acting again in the theater was doing plays with my daughter,” says Clayburgh.

Before Lily Rabe’s Broadway debut this spring, in “Steel Magnolias,” she and Clayburgh headlined two plays at Gloucester Stages in Massachusetts. Cast to type, they played mother and daughter in Israel Horovitz‘s “Speaking Well of the Dead” and Frank Pugliese‘s “Crazy Girl.”

Curiously, Clayburgh has appeared in only one play written by her husband, a revival of “In the Boom Boom Room” in Long Beach, Calif., in the early 1980s. “He writes what he writes,” she offers. “Maybe someday he will write something I can be in.”

Not that David Rabe doesn’t play a part in Clayburgh’s Broadway renaissance. The recent Off Broadway production of the Scott Elliott-helmed production of Rabe’s “Hurlyburly” led to her being cast in a reading of “Barefoot in the Park,” directed by Elliott.

As for the “Naked Girl” coup, Clayburgh had worked two years ago with Doug Hughes in a revival of “All My Sons” at Westport, Conn. When casting the Gotham premiere of the Greenberg play, Hughes remembered her for the lead role of a successful cookbook writer.

Clayburgh’s back-to-back characters, Bess Lapin in “Naked Girl” and Mrs. Banks in “Barefoot,” are both in their 50s.

“Fiftyish was a lot older than it is now,” Clayburgh says of “Barefoot,” written in 1963, and the contempo “Naked Girl.” “Mrs. Banks’ life is over at the beginning of the play, and Bess is at the peak of her life and creativity. Age is not even an issue.”

Clayburgh recently turned 61. For her, the 2005-06 season looks to be both a peak and a new beginning.

No ‘Doubt’ about it

In addition to the strong B.O. perfs of four 2005 Tony-nommed tuners, the play side of the legit ledger also is creating some history this season.

John Patrick Shanley‘s “Doubt” has been virtually sold out at the Walter Kerr since winning the big prize in early June. That 99.9%-plus biz is generally reserved for limited engagements of revivals like the Sean Combs-led “A Raisin in the Sun” or “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” with Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Dennehy.

Legit analysts must go back to the March 1998 opening of “Art” to find a similarly robust perf for an original play. After winning that year’s Tony, Yasmina Reza‘s comedy went on to hover in the 96% capacity range for most of the summer. Box office then fell to about 75% in the fall when Alan Alda left the show. The “Doubt” producers have the advantage that their stars, Cherry Jones and Brian F. O’Byrne, are signed on through the end of the year. Expect a new cast in January.

A previous Kerr tenant, David Auburn‘s “Proof,” did very strong biz but saw few sold-out weeks at the theater.

Calling all cabbies

Broadway producers get a break on those taxi-top advertisements. Despite a virtual monopoly on the ads, Clear Channel Outdoors won’t be raising the rate: $13,000 a month still buys 300 cabs.

Late last year, Medallion Financial sold its franchise of 10,000 cab ads to the entertainment conglom. Cost: $34 million. According to current prexy Andrew Murstein, Medallion started the cab offshoot in 1995 for $1 million.

Clear Channel already had an estimated 10,000 cab tops before the 2004 purchase. Rate hikes of 20% were expected this year but did not materialize. A Clear Channel rep did not offer a comment on the deal or the rates.

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