In a statement, producers Ben Feldman and Scott Beck said of their decision: “The producers of ‘Tea at Five’ announced today that they have terminated their relationship with Faye Dunaway. Plans are in development for the play to have its West End debut early next year with a new actress to play the role of Katharine Hepburn.”
The Dunaway project was announced in December — on the very same day the stage version of Network, based on the movie that won Dunaway an Oscar, opened on Broadway — with the actress set to star in the revival of Matthew Lombardo’s Hepburn bio-play.
Dunaway, her reputation for being difficult and temperamental long established, performed the play in a pre-Broadway tryout in Boston from June 22-July 14. A final-week performance was canceled without explanation.
But unnamed sources told the New York Post, which broke the story today, that the July 10 performance was canceled “moments before curtain because Dunaway slapped and threw things at crew members who were trying to put on her wig.” The Post reports that “Enraged at the cancellation, Dunaway began ‘verbally abusing’ the crew who were “fearful for their safety.” The Post described Dunaway as often late for rehearsals and at one point throwing a salad on the floor. The newspaper’s theater columnist Michael Riedel also reports that producers contacted Actors’ Equity “to see if it was ‘ethical’ to put someone in her state in front of an audience.”
Onstage, at least, Dunaway was well-received. A Boston Globe review of the production said “Dunaway inhabits the role and goes beyond mere mimicry. Of course, she captures The Voice — waspy, reedy, patrician — but she also brings a mix of fragility and strength to the role, maintaining the straight spine but also letting that stiff upper lip quiver ever so slightly when grief overtakes her.”
Producers said in December that the production would arrive in New York sometime in 2019.
The New York staging would have been Dunaway’s return to Broadway after an absence of more than 35 years. The play was to have been directed by the Tony-nominated John Tillinger.
Dunaway reportedly was traveling in Europe and could not be reached.
Tea At Five isn’t the first time Dunaway’s stage plans fell through. In 1994, after being cast to replace Glenn Close in the L.A. production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard musical, Dunaway was blindsided when Lloyd Webber instead shut down the production and publicly blamed the actress’ singing abilities (or lack thereof). Dunaway filed a lawsuit, and the matter was settled out of court.
Lombardo’s Tea At Five was first performed in 2002 by actress Kate Mulgrew at major regional theaters and New York’s Off Broadway Promenade Theatre.