Making ‘Contact’

LONDON — Oct. 23 looks to be the local opening night for “Contact,” the Tony-winning dance musical that has been long-aborning for a West End run at a theater to be named.

Michael White and Dutch-based Stage Holding will back the Lincoln Center Theater production in Blighty in a £2 million ($2.9 million) stand marking Tony-winning co-creator Susan Stroman’s London directing debut. (Stroman has previously been repped in London only as choreographer.)

No word yet as to whether Richard E. Grant and Rebecca Thornhill (now on view in London’s “The Full Monty”) will return to the starring roles for which they were tapped quite a while ago. “Time’s gone by,” White notes. We’ll swing to that.

South African production eyes Gotham

“The Mysteries” are on the move.

The South African version of the Chester Mystery Plays — first seen in Britain in London’s East End last summer before its surprise West End success this year — is prepping an imminent turn on the U.S. festival circuit (Spoleto and New Haven, the latter June 14 and 16), with Broadway likely for early 2003.

“In a commercial environment that includes shows like ‘Fame’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ it’s sort of extraordinary this has been able to prosper,” says “Mysteries” producer Adam Spiegel, who comes naturally by the “Fame” comparison: He and colleague Mark Goucher have the critically derided West End perennial back in town at the Cambridge Theater, where it has been in profit by $50,000 or thereabouts a week.

“The Mysteries” was a critics’ darling from the start, first in June at Wilton’s Music Hall in tandem with an equally joyous Broomhill Opera “Carmen,” also from South Africa, and again solus in February at the Queen’s Theater, where it ends May 18.

With a South African company of 46 speaking four principal languages (Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans, as well as English), director Mark Dornford-May’s staging came in well under its $370,000 capitalization, recouping within six weeks at the 930-seat playhouse. (The theater lost 63 seats to create a walkway through the orchestra.)

Initial attendance at the 90%-plus level has slid to more like 70%-plus of late, in keeping with the annual May downturn. But Spiegel talks of a return London run in the fall, followed by a tour and then New York for a $1.8 million Broadway engagement.

“This is event theater,” Spiegel says, “and there’s always room for event theater.”

A quiet colossus

Michael Bryant never gave interviews, and, despite appearing in films such as “Nicholas and Alexandra” and “Gandhi,” was always a creature of the theater — and ensemble theater at that. So it’s doubly worth commemorating the vast and quicksilver talent of an actor who died April 25 of cancer, age 74.

Bryant’s career is extraordinary on numerous fronts: Here was someone unafraid to play leading roles one minute (Prospero, Ibsen’s Brand), supporting roles the next, among them a puckish Charon in the 1997 world preem of Tom Stoppard’s “The Invention of Love.” Since 1977, he worked virtually exclusively at the National Theater, where roles spanned Lenin in Robert Bolt’s “State of Revolution” through to the forgotten Firs in “The Cherry Orchard” two years ago. (Already ailing, Bryant was unable to transfer with the production from the Cottesloe to the Olivier.)

Among many fond recollections, two perfs of his come at once to mind. As Polonius to Daniel Day-Lewis’ Hamlet in 1989, Bryant raised scattiness to such a high art that critics dashed to consult the text at intermission, convinced Bryant had forgotten his lines. (He hadn’t; he was merely acting them for keeps.) The next year, playing a gay cleric cruelly victimized by a newspaper’s smear campaign, Bryant gave “Racing Demon” a tremulous ache as his Rev. Harry Henderson realizes he will never see the “nice parish in the country” that has been his lifelong dream.

“It still dazzles me, the memory,” Harry tells the audience late in David Hare’s play, recounting “this single moment of unbelievable happiness.” National regulars will know Bryant gave theatergoers many more.