Goldberg on her way to ‘Forum’

GOOD MORNING: The star trek back to B’way is further illuminated with Whoopi Goldberg replacing Nathan Lane in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Whoopi is coming off four films in a row and Lane returns to pix to star in DreamWorks’ “Mousehunt.” Goldberg joins the West-East parade including Liza Minnelli subbing for vacationing Julie Andrews in “Victor/Victoria,” and Jason Alexander starring in the musicalized “Marty” when “Seinfeld” signs off. Goldberg made her B’way bow in a one-woman show in ’84. She and Frank Langella had talked teaming in “Two for the Seesaw” on B’way at one time. But he is readying to bow in Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter.” Whoopi’s role of Pseudolus in “Forum” won Tonys for Lane as well as its previous players, Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers. To get in sync on her playing the role, Whoopi spoke, in a conference call with Larry Gelbart (who co-wrote the book with Burt Shevelove), Stephen Sondheim, director Jerry Zaks and producer Roger Berlind. “A few points in the script and lyrics have to be changed, obviously, because she is a woman. But that’s easily fixed,” noted Gelbart. “It’s a very simple play. And certainly no one has to tell Whoopi Goldberg how to be funny!” She bows in Feb. for four months “Victor/Victoria” will now be advertised as “Liza With A V” as she bows Jan. 7 to Feb. 2: 32 performances, already almost sold out. Changes here will include choreography to get the best of her talents; it hasn’t been established whether she will play an American or Englishwoman. Julie Andrews will take her vacation in the Edwards’ Gstaad home. First, she hits the TV interview circuit with her new album, “Here I’ll Stay” (Philips), songs with the lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner. Andrews’ “VV” pact is up in April but she’ll probably stay till the end of May about the time the show will be breaking even and when the national company takes off in Houston Carrie Hamilton, daughter of Carol Burnett and the late Joe Hamilton, is one of the stars in the first national company of “Rent,” opening in Boston Nov. 18 in the role of Maureen. The deal was set by Nikki Mirisch, of the Blake agency, the granddaughter of Marvin M.

THE DEATH OF TED BESSELL has shocked his many friends in the biz particularly Marlo Thomas, his co-star in “That Girl” from 1966-1971, and Penny Marshall, his partner in Parkway Prods. for the past five years. Marlo told me, “This is a tragedy I am broken-hearted. He had been perfectly healthy. I spoke to him four days ago; we appeared together as a ‘Dynamic Duo’ at the Emmys as presenters. We talked about the movie version of ‘That Girl.’ It would have had us meeting again after 30 years and falling in love again.” Marlo is busy assembling footage of Bessell’s career for the Friday night tribute at the DGA by the Museum of TV & Radio. She reached artist Al Hirschfeld to do a Bessell caricature for the event, and for his family. … Penny Marshall, looping “Preacher’s Wife” in N.Y., was barely able to speak, she was so overcome. “He had been so supportive. He went over every cut I made on every picture. There wasn’t a mean bone in his body. He was there for everybody. It is a great loss personally.” Marshall wings in tonight for the Museum tribute and the memorial service Sunday at St. Martin of Tours Church. Bessell was to direct the feature version of “Bewitched” for their Parkway banner. … Marlo learned this sad news as she and the Thomas family also learned that Dr. Peter Doherty, chairman of the department of immunology at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, had won the Nobel Prize for Science for his research in immunology. The Thomases, of course, know him well: Marlo visits St. Jude’s in Memphis six times a year and was just at the St. Jude Convention in Las Vegas, where 1,000 of its fundraisers celebrated raising $200 million. It is hoped another $2 million will be raised at the gala here March 6 at the BevHilton, when Dr. Doherty will no doubt get an ovation. Marlo said, “People in Hollywood have contributed so much (to St. Jude hospital), I want them to know their money was well spent. Since 1962 my father (Danny) has been saying, ‘Some day we’re going to win one’ and now in the best field, immunology,” added Marlo. Last year Roseanne appeared on the St. Jude gala here and Marlo promised to guest on a “Roseanne” seg. She just did: the Halloween seg, in which she plays a witch over the theme of “That Girl”! Her next stint is ABC’s two-hour vidpic, “Under The Beetle Cellar.”

ILYA SALKIND AND WIFE JANE CHAPLIN have moved their Scent banner to L.A., also keeping their Universal Studios Fla. space. Among their projects is “The Abominable Snowman” Marcy Gross and Annabelle Weston Begelman’s Gross-Weston production is prepping “Big and Hairy,” a family film about bigfoot for Showtime. They just wound “The Spree” for MGM/Showtime in Vancouver with Jennifer Beals and Powers Boothe, and they add “Hastened to the Grave” for Showtime Cliff Robertson, fresh from “Escape From L.A.” and “Assignment: Berlin, ” heads to N.Y. for “Saturday Night Live” Dan Tana’s on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, is celebrating its 32nd anni. Dan, a former actor, borrowed $5, 000 to open the eatery, where Mate Mustac has been chef for 27 years; longtermers there also include maitre d’ Jimmy Cano, manager Mike Milkovich and head bartender Mike Golovac. Dan has turned down hefty offers for the intimate eatery, a favorite with clientele ranging from Lew Wasserman and Clint Eastwood to basketball and rock stars.