Calling all ‘Evitas’

Look for a late-May start at the Adelphi Theater for the Michael Grandage-helmed revival of “Evita,” composer Andrew Lloyd Webber tells Variety. Plan is for a final sweep in early December of potential Eva Perons in a casting search, says Lloyd Webber, stretching “as wide as literally to Argentina itself.” (Philip Quast is expected to play Juan Peron.)

“I don’t think we necessarily have to have a big name,” says Lloyd Webber, which pretty much discounts Madonna, the film Eva, who was ludicrously paraded as a likely stage prospect in the British press. (For how long a run: two weeks?) But, he says, “it would be great to have somebody who has a bit of Latin edge.”

Lloyd Webber spoke to Variety after returning home from New York, where his latest musical, “The Woman in White,” opens on Broadway Nov. 17. Of more direct relevance to Britain is recent news that the impresario will be the full owner of both Really Useful Group, the company he founded in 1977, and Really Useful Theaters, whose half-share with equity group Bridgepoint he is buying out.

Lloyd Webber compared the scenario to “a small version of what Disney was before Michael Eisner got his hands on it. Although we’re obviously very much smaller, the analogy is actually a very fair one: We’ve been a dozy family company, and we need shaking up.”

No word yet whether a Really Useful theater will eventually house the London preem of “All Shook Up,” which has been rumored.

‘Mack’ and Doyle             

With the raves from the Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd” no doubt still ringing in his ears, Brit director-designer John Doyle is prepping a U.K. national tour for his summer revival at the Watermill Theater of “Mack and Mabel”; a West End transfer is expected late March.

David Soul, late of “Jerry Springer the Opera,” will play silent movie helmer Mack Sennett opposite Janie Dee‘s Mabel Normand. (Anna-Jane Casey, who opens later this month as Dot in “Sunday in the Park With George” at London’s Chocolate Factory, was Mabel at the Watermill.)

And though Dee won’t be toting a tuba about the stage a la Patti LuPone‘s Mrs. Lovett, the idea is the same: Aside from the two leads, all the performers will double as their own musicians in a staging already approved by the show’s composer, Jerry Herman.

“When I saw this production, I was thrilled and stunned at the same time,” Herman told Variety. “Music like ‘Look What Happened to Mabel’ sounds so thrilling with two saxophones and a banjo and trumpet onstage; I just let John (Doyle, working with musical arranger Sarah Travis) do his thing.”

The fact is, “Mack and Mabel” has yet to enjoy the long run one might expect from such a beloved score. (Its flop 1995 West End debut starred Howard McGillin and Caroline O’Connor.) But as the song title puts it, “Time Heals Everything,” including, perhaps, commercial prospects for this show.

Haunting ‘Helen’

London has often given an early leg up to major American dramatists: Think Sam Shepard, Tony Kushner, Christopher Shinn. It’s premature to say whether 30-year-old Californian Mark Schultz will join those august ranks, but his play “A Brief History of Helen of Troy” allows ample room for hope.

Show preemed in an Actors Touring Company-Drum Theater, Plymouth, co-production which opened in Plymouth, southwest England, in September. After a U.K. tour, play arrived at the Soho Theater (through Nov. 26), where ATC supremo Gordon Anderson‘s production should not be missed.

The title is something of a red herring, if only because the various musings on history’s most celebrated siren actually serve a bitterly funny, wounding story of contemporary teenage malaise that falters only in its final scene.

Up until then, one can savor Schultz’s deft weaving of reality and fantasy, as well as an expert cast (all British with one exception) that is far more convincingly American than is the London norm. Special plaudits are due femme newcomers Andrea Riseborough, as a 15-year-old in near-psychotic need of love, and Jaimi Barbakoff, acting a decade younger than her real age (28) with style and wit.

The play is sexually candid — as you might expect from a fellatio-obsessed heroine — and emotionally acute. Its unsparing candor will surely strike a chord with the young playgoers ATC rightly courts, though few adults will escape feeling they have been here, too.

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