‘Cat’ needs an exorcism: B’way revival haunted by a ghostly character
It’s only January, but the 2013 booby prize for silliest bit of direction on Broadway goes to — drum roll, please! — Rob Ashford, for adding “Ghost Skipper” to the cast of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Skipper, you’ll recall, was Brick’s football buddy. Their relationship was homoerotic, but when Skipper admitted he’d like to “towel off” with Brick in the locker room, Brick rejected him. Skipper committed suicide and Brick became an alcoholic.
Skipper is mentioned throughout the play — but he doesn’t appear. That is, until Ashford got his hands on the play. Now, every time someone mentions Skipper, his ghost glides across the stage. He’s wearing, according to one of my spies, a “fully-fitted, preppy letter jacket” and his eyes have a “loving, misty quality” when he gazes at Brick.
(I’m getting chills just thinking about it.)(More inside.)
Those loving, misty eyes belong to one Jordan Dean, best known for his work in the ensemble of “Mamma Mia!”
This seems fitting, since Ashford, a choreographer as well as a director, has staged this “Cat” as if it were a musical — “ ‘Cats’ on a Hot Tin Roof”?
Ghost Skipper even sings!
He sings “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” though I think “Buckle Down, Winsocki,” from the 1941 musical “Best Foot Forward,” would be more apt.
At one point, a phone rings. Ghost Skipper picks it up and starts singing “Telephone Hour” from “Bye Bye Birdie.”
But — no joke — Ashford has the kids in the play, Gooper and Mae’s “no-neck monsters,” do a dance routine.
“It’s a Susan Stroman kick line in the middle of a Tennessee Williams play,” a flabbergasted source says.
Ashford’s revival, now in previews at the Richard Rodgers, stars Scarlett Johansson as “Maggie the Cat,” Benjamin (I’m married to Meryl Streep’s daughter) Walker as Brick and Ciarán Hinds as Big Daddy.
I thought I’d run Ashford’s directorial choices by the original creative team. So the other night I held a seance and got in touch with “Ghost Tennessee Williams” and “Ghost Elia Kazan,” who directed the first, legendary 1955 production.
(“Ghost Barbara Bel Geddes” and “Ghost Burl Ives” materialized as well.)
Now, it’s true that there are several versions of “Cat” floating around. In an early draft, Williams killed off Big Daddy in the second act. But the character was so powerful that Kazan felt the audience wanted to see him again in the third act. So he shut Williams up in a suite in the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, where the play tried out, and ordered him to rewrite the last act.
The brilliant Elizabeth Ashley played Maggie in a celebrated 1974 Broadway revival. She told me that on the first day of rehearsal, Williams arrived with two Louis Vuitton traveling cases. He opened them up and dumped the contents on the floor. There were pages and pages of additional scenes and speeches, many of them written on Ritz-Carlton stationery.
“You just rummage around in all this, and if you find something you like, we’ll put it in the play!” Williams said.
But nowhere in those pages of discarded scenes did anyone find a “Ghost Skipper.”
So it seems pretty clear the character isn’t one Williams or Kazan ever intended to be in the play.
(Ghost Burl Ives said it was a “damn fool idea” and then sang “A Holly Jolly Christmas” for me.)
Ashford doesn’t know this yet, but his producers don’t think it’s such a good idea, either.
I’m told they want it cut but don’t have the guts to confront Ashford, who’s wedded to his directorial flourishes.
He also has Walker strip naked and wiggle his butt at the audience.
(Ghost Skipper bursts into “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” — ha!)
I ran all this by the show’s press agent, who looked as if he’d seen a ghost after I told him what I was going to write.
The press agent pointed out there are songs in the original script, including “Gimme a Cold Drink of Water,” “Pick a Bale of Cotton” and “Happy Birthday.”
But Ashford’s also added “Three Blind Mice” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.”
(Dean, as Ghost Skipper, wanted to sing “Dancing Queen” from “Mamma Mia!,” but even Ashford thought that was laying it on a bit thick.)
As of yesterday, Ghost Skipper was still in the production.
Stuart Thompson, the revival’s lead producer, issued a statement: “I’m extremely proud of this production, and audiences are responding extremely well.”
And they leave snappin’ their fingers and tappin’ their toes!
Some quick Tony predictions for 2013:
* Tom Hanks will be nominated for a Tony for his portrayal of newspaper columnist Mike McAlary in Nora Ephron’s “Lucky Guy.”
* “Matilda” and “Kinky Boots” will be locked in a tight battle for the Tony for Best Musical.
* Hugh Jackman will be back to host this year’s Tonys.
* Rob Ashford’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will win the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.
Was that supposed to be Ghost Skipper? I thought it was supposed to represent Brick's younger self.
Either way, I thought the Production was... not great.
I also thought the butt flash was awkward and completely out of place. And trust me, I like a nice ass flash.