April 11. It was Joel Grey's birthday and what a celebration: an opening of an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York featuring a chronology of his life in the theater and his own photographs with an essay by playwright Jon Robin Baitz. Explaining Grey's particular eye, Baitz calls Grey a magician, “a very close observer” of the city around him.
Grey urges everyone to read what Jon wrote: Kathleen Marshall who is director /choreographer of Anything Goes, the revival everyone calls perfection, in which Grey sings, dances, and whoops it up, starring with Sutton Foster. Ben Vereen, Sondra Lee, and Bob Balaban greet Grey on this special night. Balaban says he's loaned a book Grey gave him to Kate Winslet, to wit he replies, Wow! Mildred Pierce wants my book!
Meantime, Grey was working on another play, The Normal Heart but this time as director. Because Grey would be performing in Anything Goes, George C. Wolfe would co-direct with Grey. In a switch, the director Joe Mantello would return to acting for the first time in 17 years. This week's opening, at the Golden Theater followed by a party at the Edison Ballroom was a who's who of New York theater: Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Lange, Cheyenne Jackson, Amy Ryan, Patricia Clarkson, Sam Mendes, Mike Nichols, Neil LaBute, Rosie Perez, Nathan Lane, Kelly Ripa, Tovah Feldshuh, to start.
Co-Producer Jayne Baron Sherman said that even now 26 years after the play's first run, the issues involved are relevant; she wanted to put author Larry Kramer, a pioneer in HIV-AIDS activism, in the spotlight. A witty, quick-paced, and moving account of those terrifying times in the first flourishing of the deadly disease when no one knew what it was and when those affected, mostly in the gay community, were dying in the proverbial phrase like flies, the play features a superb ensemble: Patrick Breen, John Benjamin Hickey, Lee Pace, Mark Harelik, Luke MacFarlane, Jim Parsons, Richard Topol, Wayne Alan Wilcox.
Joe Mantello plays Ned Weeks, a man much like Kramer, so freaked out at the numbers of friends afflicted by the painful and ostracizing illness, including his lover, that he became an activist insisting that attention be paid.
Ellen Barkin in her Broadway debut as a doctor who is treating this community is simply brilliant. The Outer Critics Circle has already nominated Barkin's performance and the revival for awards. Of course, because in this country mainly gays were dying, it took awhile, with many Bible thumpers gleefully spreading hate. The climate for hate mongering still exists, Sherman pointed out. Or to return to Baitz's words about Grey's photo of young boys, “You wonder how this image plays into his current production of Larry Kramer's masterpiece, The Normal Heart, which tells of how the old world powers that be ignored the signs at the beginning of the AIDS years, which led to the deaths of so many thousands of young boys like the ones he has just captured.”
Whoops went up at the Edison as early raves were coming in for The Normal Heart and Joel Grey exulted: “Anything Goes and The Normal Heart. Can you imagine having that on your plate?” The yin and yang of theater. A Cole Porter musical, a colorful and exuberant crowd-pleaser and a politically heartfelt superb drama. Perfection.