Radcliffe 'commands the stage' in 'Equus'

I WAS sitting right next to my friend, Renee Zellweger, at Michael’s when up behind us comes Harry Connick, Jr. who twined his arms around both of us and opined to me that Renee “is the one single most incredible talent I have ever worked with in my entire life in show business!” Renee, slim as a twig, voluptuous nevertheless, and attired in a little black nothing dress over five-inch heels, just poo-poo-ed Harry. He then began begging her to join him onstage in some project — anything! Renee tried to change the subject by asking if I’d seen Katie Holmes in “All My Sons” and she went on to say how beautiful, how talented, what a big career Mrs. Tom Cruise has ahead of her. Renee has produced the fabulous Lifetime movie “Living Proof,” which airs Oct. 18 and stars Harry as the UCLA scientist savior of victims of breast cancer, Dr. Dennis Slamon.

Right now I am waiting for someone like the Shubert producer Gerry Schoenfeld to phone, asking how to get in touch with team Zellweger and Connick for a special Broadway project. Incidentally, during this lunch of high rollers and very very VIPs, Renee didn’t eat one morsel. Her press agent, John Carrabino, who was working the rolls and butter along with me, whispered, “She probably had a big breakfast.” I said, “Well, if anybody knows how to gain and lose weight, it’s our girl here, Bridget Jones.” Renee laughed, “Oh yes, I do know how to gain it.”

BACK IN 1976, I sat through “Equus” Peter Shaffer’s thought-provoking (and then-shocking) play about a boy who commits a horrible act — blinding six horses — and the therapist who attempts to heal him. The boy, Alan Strang, was played by Peter Firth, who had originated the role in London and on Broadway opposite Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Martin Dysart. But when Hopkins left the play, Richard Burton stepped in. It was Burton’s first stage role in years, after a string of embarrassing films. Burton’s return should have been enough to fix audience attention to the action onstage. Alas, up in the balcony that night, arrayed in an exotic white turban, embroidered jacket and a mammoth diamond on her hand that glittered distractingly, was Burton’s wife, Elizabeth Taylor. She was not invisible. Richard was fine in the role, but Elizabeth’s presence in the theater threw everything off-kilter. This was the story of their entire marriage! I had just begun my syndicated column in the New York Daily News and I knew there was trouble in Hell. In fact, 24 hours later, they would split again and for good.

So, it was with a fairly fresh perspective I attended the new production of “Equus” at the Broadhurst Theater, starring Richard Griffiths as Dysart and Daniel Radcliffe as Strang. This time, there were no diamond-encrusted distractions, but a monumentally compelling two and a half hours of theater, marvelously directed by Thea Sharrock.

As for Daniel Radcliffe, I review his performance by saying that he has submerged himself so completely in this difficult role that one searches in vain for any vestige of “Harry Potter.” He commands the stage, and fully deserved the tumultuous bravos at the curtain call. (The standing ovation for “Equus” was not the now-routine “let’s stretch-our-legs” exercise.)

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