Celebration: At the Tavern on the Green, cast, crew and well-wishers toasted the Broadway opening -- and mostly good reviews -- of 'Triumph of Love.'

A NIGHT FOR 'TRIUMPH'

October 25, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

NEW YORK -- Even in the throng gathered outside Broadway's Royale Theatre for Thursday night's opening of "Triumph of Love," producer Margo Lion stood out.

Celebrities ranging from Parker Posey to Robin Leach caught the glare of the paparazzi's strobes. But decked out in a beaded ball gown with a voluminous blue satin skirt -- an outfit that proved good luck with her first major Broadway hit, "Jelly's Last Jam" -- Lion caused at least a few tongues to wag.

"Oh, my goodness, is she dressed to the teeth!" one dowdy theatergoer exclaimed.

"Right out of a Walt Disney film!" her companion replied.

Since Disney is known for fairy tales, the comparison was apt. The jampacked premiere felt a lot like a fairy tale -- New York- style.

The opening night party was held at the posh Central Park restaurant Tavern on the Green. Lion -- who shepherded "Triumph" from Center Stage to the Yale Repertory Theatre to Broadway -- chose Tavern partly because its park location reflected the musical's garden setting, but mainly because it could accommodate a crowd of more than 1,000.

Not a bad turnout, one partygoer commented, for a show with only seven actors.

At times, the place was packed so tightly you had the feeling that if one more person ate one more bite of one more opulent chocolate dessert, the walls would give way.

The grand tradition of reading reviews at opening night parties has virtually disappeared -- a victim, at least in part, of modern newspapers whose satellite printing plants deliver papers to the city too late.

But Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, one of the show's co-producers, somehow knew that the New Yorker (( and Newsday had raves and USA Today was also "quite good." He predicted that the musical would tour. "I'd be surprised if it didn't," he said.

Neither Landesman nor anyone else at the party had yet seen

the New York

Times, which swam against the tide of positive notices to spew raspberries at almost everyone but Betty Buckley.

Buckley made a fashionably late entrance at the party. The actress underwent back surgery during rehearsals and also missed a number of preview performances. But her delivery of the impassioned song "Serenity" literally stopped the show on opening night, garnering a standing ovation that left her weeping.

Buckley submitted to the flashbulbs for a few minutes at the party, until a member of her entourage declared that the star wasn't feeling well and asked the photographers to stop.

Her co-star, F. Murray Abraham, drew some mixed notices the next day for his Broadway singing debut, but at the party he was bubbly. "If this thing is as well received by the critics as it's been by the public, I'm going to start singing much more diligently," he said. "The idea of singing thrills me."

The party gave the show's backstage stars a chance to shine as well. For James Magruder, the Center Stage resident dramaturg who wrote the musical's book, the week got off to an auspicious start on Monday when the Society of American Literary Translators named his "Three Translations" (which contains his translation of Marivaux's "Triumph of Love") one of three Outstanding Literary Translations of the Year.

David Civali, a colleague from Magruder's graduate school days at Yale, said the award "would have been the news of his life had this [opening] not occurred." Another of Magruder's supporters was Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Angels in America," who declared Magruder "a kind of comic genius."

Yesterday, Magruder said of the negative Times review, "I could be in denial, a little depressed because it's all over, but I just have a healthy perspective on it. If all the reviews were bad and said it wasn't funny, you'd be in the problem of audiences coming in saying, 'Make me laugh.' But people love the show."

Michael Mayer, director of "Triumph of Love" and a former Marylander, adorned his tuxedo with a dark green bow tie, in honor of the show's garden set, and harlequin-decorated

suspenders, in honor of the show's Harlequin character. Among his guests were 11 relatives who traveled from as far as Los Angeles and his parents, Jerry and Lou Mayer, from Rockville.

"I feel the proudest that Magruder and I maintained our vision of what this could be," Mayer said. "It has the same heart."

Others at the opening included a half dozen representatives of Center Stage, whose last Broadway transfer, the 1987 musical, "Roza," was, coincidentally, at the same theater. "The press of the crowd outside both before and after just felt like it was Christmas, and that was just wonderful for us," said Nancy Roche, president of the board of trustees.

Peter Wilkes, a Baltimore stockbroker and community theater actor, made the trip to the gala opening with his bride of three weeks, Dickey Wilson. Childhood friends of Baltimore-born Lion, the pair saw the musical at Center Stage last year and decided to invest in it. "It was our wedding present to each other," he said.

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