EXCLUSIVE: Terrence McNally’s onstage, backstage, offstage comedy It’s Only A Play will begin performances September 28 on Broadway with about $8 million in the bank, producer Tom Kirdahy told Deadline today. Chalk up the strong advance for the $3.5 million show to one of the starriest marquees in memory, with someone on the bill for every theatergoer.
Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane — the killer duo who made Broadway history with The Producers in 2001 — star as a playwright and his bitchy best friend. Megan Mullally is the freshman producer, Stockard Channing the swanning diva and F. Murray Abraham the dyspeptic (is there any other kind?) critic. Broadway newcomer and August 24th birthday boy Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley of the Harry Potter movie franchise) is Frank Finger, the director of the play-within-the-play. Last year he appeared in Jez Butterworth’s Mojo on the West End. McNally’s director is the great Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, The Coast Of Utopia, most recently, Much Ado About Nothing in Central Park). It’s at the Shubert-owned Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
The comedy dates from the 1970s, had its off-off-Broadway debut in 1982 and then a Manhattan Theatre Club production in 1985 that starred Paul Benedict as the writer; the late, legendary Jimmy Coco as the friend and Christine Baranski as the producer. A 1992 Mark Taper Forum production in L.A. starred Benedict with Charles Nelson Reilly, Eileen Brennan and a very young David Hyde Pierce.
Kirdahy, who is McNally’s husband, is producing with Roy Furman and Ken Davenport. McNally spent much of the last several months commuting between Williamstown, MA — where his book for the Kander-and-Ebb musical The Visit was just presented — and his desk, updating the It’s Only A Play script to the present tense.
“I would almost call it an overhaul,” Kirdahy told me. “One character is gone. It’s very much of the moment in the digital age. People get information on their smart phones, there are chat rooms, costumes from current shows. But the bones are very much there.” Michael Riedel recently noted in the N.Y. Post that among the updates are references to Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots), Times critic Ben Brantley, and, of course, Michael Riedel.
I asked if there’d been any diva behavior during rehearsals so far. “Everyone’s playing well with the others,” Kirdahy said.
“People can smell a stunt, and this isn’t stunt casting,” he added. “This is Nathan and F. Murray’s sixth McNally play, and they’re all actors who hear Terrence’s music. It’s hilarious — but they’re all taking it dead seriously.”