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B'way's the place for second acts.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "There are no second acts in American lives," he must have been looking westward at his own failed career in Hollywood. Certainly, he couldn't have been glancing back over his shoulder at Broadway. It can appear the theater is nothing but second acts for creatives looking to jumpstart careers.

Let's begin with the most eyebrow-raising entry: Jerry Lewis will make his Broadway directorial debut with a tuner version of "The Nutty Professor," being written by Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes, who should know better. In Hollywood, the Dowers behind Eddie Murphy knew enough to say no to Lewis' wishes to star in the 1996 remake of the 1963 screen comedy.

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Who really expects "Nutty Professor" to make it to Broadway with Lewis attached? Perhaps the same people who are convinced that the legendary Motown team of Holland/ Dozier/Holland will make a Broadway splash with their first stage tuner, "The First Wives Club." Daily Variety called their efforts "hammered out in generic Motown terms," while the L.A. Times agreed, citing the show's "often generic R&B elevator music."

Paramount, which controls "Club" rights, was reluctant to sell the stage rights, says Lamont Dozier, until told the musical would reunite the H/D/H team. That team is a known brand. Would the Hollywood types have jumped at newer Broadway-centric names such as David Yazbek or Adam Guettel?

Dolly Parton's first tuner, "9 to 5," did make it to Broadway, but will lose its entire capitalization when it shutters next month after a short run. Investors ponied up the $15 million on the salability of a singer-songwriter who would not be appearing onstage.

Old Broadway hands might point to the fact that both these shows were spawned in Hollywood with first-time legit producers attached. Which does not excuse the Tony Awards for milking Parton's fame when it had her sing the "9 to 5" title song on this year's telecast. But then here's an org that nommed Jane Fonda ("33 Variations"), returning to the boards after a 46-year absence, over Carla Gugino ("Desire Under the Elms") or Tovah Feldshuh ("Irena's Vow").

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The Tonys' one stab at being contempo was its surprise decision to give the score award to Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey ("Next to Normal") instead of Elton John ("Billy Elliot").

John, whose rockstar days ended 20 years ago and is now known as a Vegas lounge act, continues to be touted as a Broadway godsend even though his only first-rate tuner score is a recycled movie score, "The Lion King," from 15 years ago. His current "Billy Elliot" does offer up two genuine showstoppers: the act one "Angry Dance," which owes everything to Peter Darling's choreography and Michael Koch's percussive orchestration, and the act two "Dream Ballet" between the young Billy and his older self, set to Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."

To conjure up a likeminded moment of creative auto-piloting, one would have to imagine Leonard Bernstein not writing "Dance at the Gym" and instead putting Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" into "West Side Story."

Given Broadway's penchant for the past over the present, it's no surprise Liza Minnelli would beat out movie star/Broadway deb Will Ferrell in Tony's special-event category this year.

What remained truly mind-boggling was the producers' decision not only to give Minnelli the plum presenter spot--handing out the best musical award--but having her cap the telecast's mob-scene opening number, in which she offered the best evidence why second acts (or, in her case, third or fourth acts) should be avoided: She had trouble belting out one of her signature tunes from 30 years ago, "And the World Goes 'Round."

It's not ageist to point out these failings. Legit legends like Angela Lansbury ("Blithe Spirit"), Charles Strouse (the Broadway-bound "Minsky's") and Arthur Laurents ("Gypsy") have shown that they're at the top of their game as they continue to work past their 80th birthdays. They are the personification of hopes that materialize as well as spring eternal.
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY; play adaptations
Author:Hofler, Robert
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 10, 2009
Words:670
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