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Ehle to play Tracy Lord in London “Story”

Tony-winner plucks plum role at Old Vic

LONDON — It’s Tony winner Jennifer Ehle — not any of the various Oscar-friendly names mentioned — who will play socialite Tracy Lord when “The Philadelphia Story” comes to the Old Vic Theater in May. The production, directed by Jerry Zaks, will co-star Vic artistic director Spacey as C.K. Dexter Haven.

The casting of Ehle ends months of speculation that had everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Cameron Diaz playing the role, with Debra Messing and Laura Linney emerging as front-runners in recent weeks.

But Ehle’s stage chops are superior to almost all the other candidates, following credits on Broadway and in London that include her Tony-winning performance as Annie in the 2000 New York revival of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing.”

Show opens May 10 at the Vic and is expected to run for at last 12 and probably 18 weeks. At present, it looks likely that Spacey will not be able to perform the entire London stand because of his commitments to filming the new “Superman” film, in which he plays the villainous Lex Luthor.

Best-known from the Katharine Hepburn/Jimmy Stewart/Cary Grant movie in 1940, directed by George Cukor, Philip Barry’s play has received relatively few major productions since its Broadway preem in 1939, which also starred Hepburn.

The expectation is that this staging may transfer sometime in 2006 to Broadway, where Barry’s comedy was last seen at Lincoln Center some 25 years ago, with Blythe Danner as Tracy.

“Story” concludes Spacey’s first year running the venerable Old Vic, where the two-time Oscar winner has been receiving some decidedly downbeat reviews for his choice of plays thus far.

Ehle starred as Elizabeth Bennett opposite Colin Firth in the miniseries “Pride and Prejudice” and appeared in the film “Possession.”

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