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The much-touted musical "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is a financial and artistic disaster, insiders tell me.
Producers of the troubled show that features the music of Bob Dylan set to dance pieces by the legendary Twyla Tharp now fear a total loss when the show opens on Oct. 26.
"We'll lose all $10 million," predicted one insider who knows the score. "It's terrible."
In the last week, it was announced that the lead female actress, Caryn Lynn Manuel, was replaced by Lisa Brescia 10 performances into previews. Jenn Colella, the actress who preceded Manuel, was smart enough to opt out entirely for "High Fidelity," also opening soon and an "easier" show.
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"This show is a workout," laughed one participant.
And that's not all. According to one source with the show, at least "five or six" of the original 10 actors have recently been replaced as Tharp — who remains obstinate —tries to salvage what's left of the show.
One big problem, sources said, is that the Dylan songs have been arranged into unrecognizable Broadway versions of themselves.
"You couldn't tell what they were," said an observer.
Tharp is rushing to turn them back into folk songs, but it's probably too late for that.
"If you read her book," said an insider, "you'll [see] she says previews are a time for editing."
Indeed, Tharp wrote of fixing the Billy Joel show in "The Creative Habit": "I was not a novice at the art of change. I knew the repertoire of tweak and cut and add and replace and reposition."
The idea for "Times" sprouted from Tharp's success with Joel's music in "Movin' Out," another show that was troubled in previews but was a success by opening night.
"The difference is in 'Movin' Out' you had a guy who sounded like Billy Joel and played the piano and was on stage," my source said. "In this show, there's no one playing Dylan. The plot is about a father and son sleeping with the same woman, and it's unsavory."
Still, one insider is voicing support for "Times."
"It's a roller-coaster ride, a dreamy trip," the source said, citing "Desolation Row" as a standout number. "I think the show will be a hit."
Dylan, I'm told, saw the show only once when it was playing in La Jolla, Calif. He signed off on it and never returned. Whether he's there on opening night is as much a mystery as the show itself. With such backstage scuffling, the odds are he will stay away.
Penelope Cruz tells me she's getting more comfortable speaking and acting in English, and is determined to make more American movies.
"I'm going to do it, you'll see," she said with great humor at Saturday night's premiere of "Volver," the Pedro Almodovar movie that's winning fans and acclaim everywhere it plays.
Last night at the premiere, Cruz entertained an eclectic group of pals including U2's Bono, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Kathleen Turner, Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer, "Kramer vs. Kramer" author Avery Corman and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Immediately following the screening, Penelope had a bite to eat with Combs, who missed most of the movie because he ignored the start time and arrived egregiously late.
Afterward, Cruz held court in a tiny crowded booth at a W. 14th St. nightclub with Bono, Helena Christensen, Gavin Friday and Bono's endless security team. At another booth, Almodovar, his brother-producer Augustin and three other wonderful "Volver" actresses accepted kudos. Almodovar told me his diet is going well, and he's working on a script for a new movie with a science fiction theme.
"Volver," I predict, will earn Cruz, Almodovar, the picture itself and supporting actress Carmen Maura Oscar nominations. With Penelope now in the lead it's a tough best actress category this year that includes Judi Dench, Renee Zellweger, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren as well as Annette Bening, Meryl Streep, Sienna Miller and Cate Blanchett who also are possibly in the mix.
With "Volver" — pronounced VOHL-vair, which means "to return" in Spanish — Almodovar may have his biggest yet after a stellar list of beloved films including "Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "All About My Mother" and "Bad Education."
In many ways, "Volver" is his crowning achievement because it's the most accessible. Gone are the transvestites and happy-go-lucky freaks that usually dominate his stories. Instead, by portraying a group of strong, sensual, smart women, Almodovar is tapping the audience head-on. He is almost — God forbid — mainstream.
Penelope is known to most Americans as an actress who hooked up with Tom Cruise briefly. Many may confuse her with her friend Salma Hayek, not realizing they aren't even similar and come from different countries.
In her past American films, Cruz has been beautiful but awkward to the point of embarrassing because her command of English has been halting. With the incomprehensible quarter of "Vanilla Sky," "All The Pretty Horses," "Sahara" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," Cruz fell short of expectations.
But in "Volver," all that changes. Unencumbered by the language barrier in her head, she becomes a full-fledged movie star, carrying the film and missing from nary a scene. She's relaxed, funny, sexy beyond belief and intelligent. She totally inhabits Raimunda, the central character, whose story ranges from comedy to drama to thriller. Cruz lights up the movie like no other female star since Sophia Loren, and that's quite an accomplishment. Watch her wrap the Academy Awards right around her finger.
Just in case you were wondering, the family of Robert Kennedy all approve of Emilio Estevez's Oscar-tipped movie, "Bobby," which will open next month. (Scoop: The word is that Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige have just recorded a gospel song for the closing credits.)
Estevez's parents, Martin and Janet Sheen (married 45 years), were just two of the many famous guests on Friday night at Chelsea Piers for the Robert Kennedy Memorial Foundation dinner.
Sheen is in "Bobby" as are Sharon Stone and Christian Slater, who were also guests and performed with Sheen, Matthew Modine, Lorraine Bracco, Sigourney Weaver, Charles Grodin, Giancarlo Esposito, Gloria Reuben and Robin Wright Penn in a reading of Ariel Dorfman's play "Speak Truth to Power."
Esposito, a journeyman character actor who never gets enough credit, accepted congrats after the show for his exceptional performance from Richard Belzer, who was carrying a small dog. Modine, Reuben and Bracco were also standouts. The play opens next week at the Culture Project on Bleecker Street in New York.
Joshua Jackson, of "Dawson's Creek" fame, who plays a Ted Sorensen/Richard Goodwin-like character in "Bobby," was also there along with the film's producers, Holly Wiersma and Gary Walters.
And even though Ethel Kennedy and her daughters Kerry and Rory all sanction the film, they told me they probably won't see it. You can't blame them. "Bobby" is full of historic footage of RFK, including a re-enactment of his assassination at the Ambassador Hotel. It's hard enough to watch if you're not related to the late senator and presidential candidate.
But the atmosphere at the memorial dinner was charged on Friday night as Kerry Kennedy introduced a number of honorees who have worked for humanitarian causes around the world. Bill Clinton introduced the evening with his usual rousing speech, and was followed by Nobel Prize winner and former U.S. Marine Bobby Muller, who almost stole the oratorical spotlight from Clinton when he spoke from his wheelchair. His spinal cord was severed by a bullet during his tour of duty in Vietnam.
By the time all the honorees were described, we were almost ready to give up the gossip world and head to a Third World country — well, not really. But you can check the entire remarkable enterprise out at speaktruth.org.
Meantime, it wasn't all torture and civil rights that occupied the night. For one thing, a gaggle of pre-teen girls surrounded Jimmy Fallon and wouldn't leave him alone. They were very cute with their autograph books, encouraging Fallon when he broke out in an impromptu a cappella medley of George Benson hits. He was no competition, however, for pop star Tracy Chapman — a last minute sub for an ailing Elvis Costello — who serenaded the crowd with "Talkin' Bout a Revolution."
Dana Delany, off duty from her "Kidnapped" series, turned up with former HBO chief Michael Fuchs and was introduced to Kennedy relative Caroline Radziwill and New York Times writer Jill Brooke, who brought husband Gary Goldstein and gorgeous stepdaughters Jessica and Vanessa. Delany is enjoying New York so much, by the way, she's talking about moving here this winter permanently.
"Bobby" is shaping up, I should tell you, as quite the best-picture contender. Along with the aforementioned "Volver" and Paramount's "Dreamgirls," "Bobby" could be one of three locks in that category. Stone is a cinch for best supporting actress, and both Laurence Fishburne and Freddie Rodriguez are being talked about for best supporting actor.
It's no surprise to Estevez's mother, but she's relieved by the praise.
"You have no idea how hard Emilio worked," she said.
If you're a fan of Annie Lennox's song, "Why," check out a new version by John Boutte on a marvelous new album of gems by the New Orleans Social Club called "Sing Me Back Home." Also worthwhile and hum-able: "Look Up," by Irma Thomas and Marcia Ball.