Nussbaum and Mueller land juicy out-of-town roles

August 30, 2011

Iconic Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum has put on his traveling shoes for a rare trip out-of-town. He's playing Solomon Galkin in Imagining Madoff, a controversial play by Deborah Margolin presented at Theater J in Washington, DC, where former-Chicagoan Ari Roth is artistic director. As the title suggests, convicted financier Bernard Madoff is the antagonist of the play, which is a fictional account of Madoff being confronted by a man he's nearly ruined, Solomon Galkin. In the play, Galkin is a Holocaust survivor, important literary figure and noted philanthropist whose foundation is decimated by Madoff's collapse.

If Galkin sounds suspiciously like Elie Wiesel, that's because he originally WAS Wiesel as Margolin wrote the play. One of several high-profile Madoff victims, Wiesel made extremely nasty public comments when he heard about the play (before its 2010 world premiere) and threatened legal action if he wasn't removed from it. Margolin probably would have won any lawsuit--Wiesel is a public figure, after all, and he was not defamed in the play--but lawsuits are long and expensive so she chose instead to substitute the thinly fictionalized character of Galkin. The controversy was such that Theater J postponed production of Imagining Madoff for a year, thereby losing the chance to stage the world premiere (which was done at Stageworks/Hudson Stage in upstate New York). Imaging Madoff runs Aug. 31-Sept. 25 and is directed by Alexandra Aron.

Popular Chicago actor and singer Jessie Mueller has landed a plum co-starring role for her Broadway debut, playing the romantic lead opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in a big revival of the 1965 musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Mueller spent July in New York as part of a workshop for a new version of the show, after which she was signed for the real deal, to be directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer with a heavily reworked book by playwright Peter Parnell. The show's original authors, Burton Lane (music) and Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics), long since went to the Great White Way in the Sky.

In the original show (also made into a 1970 movie starring Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand), the heroine is drab Daisy Gamble who seeks hypnotherapy to stop smoking at the request of her boyfriend. Under hypnosis, she reveals to her psycho-therapist details of colorful past life as Melinda Wells in Regency-era London, and her doc falls for Melinda. In the 2011 version, the hero is David Gamble, a gay man who wants to stop smoking for his boyfriend. During hypnotherapy, David reveals details of his past life as 1940's jazz singer Melinda Wells, and the doc falls for Melinda. Connick is the doc and Jessie Mueller has the juicy role of Melinda.

A Jefferson Award winning performer, Mueller is the daughter of highly-regarded acting couple Roger Mueller and Jill Shellabarger, all four of whose kids have followed Ma and Pa into show biz. Mueller has worked at most of the big Chicago theaters such as Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman and Marriott. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is scheduled to begin previews Nov. 12 at Broadway's St. James Theatre, with a Dec. 11 opening night.

A Broadway casting notice for David Henry Hwang's Chinglish appeared in a recent edition of Back Stage, the national trade paper for actors, and it made clear that many roles from the June hit Goodman Theatre world premiere of the play may be up for grabs. Indeed, every role in the play was listed in the audition notice except that of Peter, the Australian character of European extraction who speaks fluent Mandarin, and who was played in Chicago by Stephen Pucci. As for the other roles--six actors playing eight characters, five of them Chinese and all of them needing to be fluent in Mandarin as well as English--all of them were described in detail. There was, however, one important caveat in the Aug. 11 posting: "Most positions in the Broadway production have been offered, but have not yet been accepted; they are therefore considered available." Of course, it can't hurt to audition if you have the acting chops and the language chops: the Broadway production also seeks understudies, and there could be a touring company in the future. By the way, Broadway minimum is $1,653 a week (trust me, these actors will earn more), rehearsals begin Sept. 12 under director Leigh Silverman (who directed Chinglish here), with previews beginning in October.