`The Graduate' to bring Kathleen Turner to city

Theater: Stage version will play the Mechanic in January en route to Broadway.

November 05, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The hit London stage version of The Graduate, starring Kathleen Turner as uninhibited Mrs. Robinson, will begin a three-city pre-Broadway tour at the Mechanic Theatre in January.

Turner will re-create the role she originated last spring on the West End, creating a sensation in a brief scene in which she bares all. The show had the largest opening advance ticket sale of any play in West End history.

The stage play is directed and adapted by Terry Johnson from the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, and the Charles Webb novel that inspired the 1967 movie. American Pie star Jason Biggs will play Benjamin Braddock, the college graduate Mrs. Robinson seduces. Her daughter, Elaine, will be played by Clueless star Alicia Silverstone.

After a 10-day run in Baltimore (Jan. 10-20), The Graduate will play a month in Toronto and three weeks in Boston before arriving on Broadway in March. The production's technical rehearsals will take place at the Mechanic.

Turner last appeared at the Mechanic a year ago in the one-woman show Tallulah. The actress had a hand in selecting the tryout towns for The Graduate, according to Michael J. Brand, a vice president of Clear Channel Entertainment (formerly SFX Theatrical), which presents shows at the Mechanic in partnership with the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts. "Baltimore and Boston were two of her favorite places when she did Tallulah," Brand said of the 47-year-old actress, a 1977 graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Tallulah was expected to go to Broadway but was indefinitely postponed. The last dramatic play to try out at the Mechanic and move to Broadway was Barrymore, starring Christopher Plummer, in 1997.

Baltimore was historically a part of the Broadway tryout circuit, and Brand sees The Graduate as an important step in restoring that role. "This is a model that we're going to look at doing for pre-Broadway or direct post-Broadway type productions that will not be looked at as traditional road shows," he said, explaining that Clear Channel hopes to establish an East Coast circuit including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston.

Mark Sissman, the newly appointed president of the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts, praised the decision to launch The Graduate's pre-Broadway tour here as "a positive statement about the theater patrons in Baltimore and the surrounding communities - that we're a good place to try out plays."

He also regards The Graduate as a strong indicator for the future of the Hippodrome Theater, whose renovation is being coordinated by the BCPA with the Maryland Stadium Authority. "Clear Channel is a major partner in the Hippodrome, not just managing it but a major economic partner, and for them to be successful and for the Hippodrome to be successful, they have to book the Hippodrome with the kind of activity and the kind of talent that The Graduate and Kathleen Turner represent," Sissman said.

On the West End, Turner generally received stronger reviews than the show as a whole. Her towel-dropping was kept secret until the first preview, when it reportedly elicited gasps from the audience.

Audiences at London's Gielgud Theatre, where the play is still running (Turner was succeeded in the role by Jerry Hall, Amanda Donohoe, Anne Archer and, currently, Linda Gray), can buy souvenir towels for 25 British pounds (roughly $37.50). No word yet on whether the American production will follow suit.

Tickets to The Graduate are $17.50-$60 and go on sale Dec. 2. Call 410-752-1200.

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