With Les Misérables scheduled to close on May 18 after 16 years on Broadway, some eagle-eyed observers of the musical find it odd that actor J. Mark McVey-who has played the lead role of Jean Valjean longer than anyone else associated with the New York production-will be departing the play on Feb. 23. They find it even odder that Mr. McVey will be replaced by a virtual unknown for the last three months of performances.
According to sources close to the production, the decision may have a lot to do with the potentially lucrative contract that Mr. McVey had with the production.
On Oct. 2, 2002, producers announced that Les Misérables would close on March 15, three days after celebrating its 16th anniversary on Broadway. That closing date has now been extended to May 18. The musical, which is adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel about the French Revolution, is currently the longest-running show on Broadway, and when it closes will be the second-longest-running show in Broadway history, behind Cats .
And the 45-year-old Mr. McVey has the distinction of being the longest-running Valjean on the Great White Way. He has appeared in the musical on and off since 1991 and has spent much of the last three years in the role.
According to Mr. McVey, long before the show’s closing was announced, he had planned to leave Les Misérables in February to tour with composer Marvin Hamlisch, with whom he’s been performing for more than 11 years. But when producers announced that Les Miz was closing, Mr. McVey said he offered to alter his plans, since he hoped to be able to close the show in the role he had played for so long. He told The Transom that he would have arranged to take off the first two weeks in March to do concerts with Mr. Hamlisch in Detroit and Baltimore, then return for a two-month victory lap as the last Jean Valjean.
But the play’s producer, Cameron Mackintosh, had something else in mind. A spokesman for the musical, Michael Borowski, confirmed that Mr. Mackintosh and his company wanted to persuade actor Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, to return to his role for the final weeks of the run. Terrence Mann, who originated the role of Valjean’s antagonist, Inspector Javert, agreed to just such a deal and began much-hyped performances starting Feb. 2.
But Mr. Wilkinson, who took on the physically demanding role of Valjean again in June 2002, when the production became the first Broadway show to perform in Shanghai, declined.
Mr. McVey confirmed that after the deal to lure Mr. Wilkinson fell through, he made it clear that he would offer his services, minus two weeks of touring with Mr. Hamlisch, for the end of the run. But producers turned him down a second time. “In my mind, it could have been worked out, and there wasn’t even an effort made to work it out. I wasn’t even asked,” said Mr. McVey. “And that’s what hurts. That’s the part I felt I deserved.”
Another source said that the remaining cast of the show, already having a tough time coming to grips with its last weeks, are distressed about Mr. McVey’s situation and dismayed to lose their longtime star before the last hurrah.
Said Mr. Borowski: “His contract was up Feb. 23, and the producer just decided that he wanted someone else.”
Instead of Mr. McVey, audiences attending the final performances of Les Misérables will see a young actor named Randall Keith in the role of Jean Valjean. Mr. Keith has never appeared on Broadway before, and has been touring in the road company of Les Miz since 2001. “Randall Keith is the star of the national tour and has a long history with the show,” said Mr. Borowski.
“I would rather be doing it,” Mr. McVey said by phone. “I feel that I am the best person for the job.”
Some close to the Broadway production contend that the decision to go with an unknown over Mr. McVey may have something to do with the producers wanting to squeeze as much money as possible from Les Misérables in the final lucrative weeks of its current stage life.
Though Mr. McVey would not comment on his salary or his terms of payment, a source familiar with the situation said that in his last run as Valjean, the actor struck an unusual deal with the production that paid him bonuses whenever ticket sales exceeded the musical’s weekly production nut. The source added that the size of the bonus was determined by how much those ticket sales exceeded the break-even point. Such an arrangement could have meant a windfall for Mr. McVey in the final months of the run, when shows begin to sell out again. And chances are a Broadway virgin like Mr. Keith would not be able to work out such a deal.
Mr. Borowski denied, however, that such an arrangement with Mr. McVey existed. He did confirm, however, that the musical’s grosses “are now above and beyond what they were last year.”
Whether or not money was at the root of the decision not to renew Mr. McVey’s contract, the actor said he won’t be blaming Cameron Mackintosh. Mr. McVey is a religious man, and said that “ultimately, whatever decision was made was not made by Cameron Mackintosh, it was made by my Creator. He has more important things for me to do.” Les Misérables ‘ “creator,” Mr. Mackintosh, was in Malta and could not be reached for comment.
-Rebecca Traister with Alexandra Wolfe
Go Wes, Young Imitator
There weren’t many people under the age of 40 at the American Museum of the Moving Image’s tribute to comedian Billy Crystal on Feb. 12. But the youngsters who did attend the event at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel were treated to a little Revenge of the Nerds –style drama involving Imitation of Christ designer Tara Subkoff.
While comrades of Mr. Crystal, including Robin Williams and Analyze That director Harold Ramis, circulated between the regular museum-sponsored cocktails and the adjoining private party hosted by Mayor Bloomberg, Ms. Subkoff huddled in a corner with Rushmore director Wes Anderson. The skinny Mr. Anderson, dressed with geeky precision in a black velvet tuxedo, paid attention exclusively to Ms. Subkoff, a diminutive, blond former actress, who was dressed in a sparkly gold vintage dress.
Mr. Anderson and Ms. Subkoff were also sitting together at dinner when a former beau of the designer, petite Saturday Night Live comedian Jimmy Fallon, walked into the room. Mr. Fallon and Ms. Subkoff have dated intermittently for years and were together at the Sept. 22 Emmy Awards, where the clueless Joan Rivers asked Ms. Subkoff, “What do you do besides looking like a fabulous cocktail waitress?”
But Ms. Subkoff and Mr. Fallon didn’t seem interested in tripping down memory lane on Feb. 12. When the SNL cast member arrived halfway through the first course, he walked past Ms. Subkoff and Mr. Anderson without exchanging pleasantries and headed for his seat two tables away. A spokeswoman for Ms. Subkoff declined to say whether Ms. Subkoff and Mr. Anderson were an item. “Her personal life is her personal life,” she said. The spokeswoman also downplayed any notion of a rift between Ms. Subkoff and Mr. Fallon. “Tara and Wes are good friends, and she’s also friends with Jimmy. I don’t think there was any beef between the two of them,” she said. Mr. Fallon’s publicist, Robert Garlock, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Perhaps Mr. Fallon was nervous because he was the lone pisher among a group of comedy and acting veterans that included Mr. Williams, Mr. Ramis, Robert De Niro, crusty Jack Palance and SNL alumnus Molly Shannon.
Indeed, in his closing remarks, Mr. Crystal said of Mr. Fallon’s twitchy tribute to him: “I’ve thrown up Scotch older than you.”
So what’s the deal with Lizzie Grubman’s bakery?
Since Ms. Grubman returned from her Long Island lockdown looking, according to the tabs, fitter than ever, talk of the baked-goods store she was planning to open seems to have evaporated.
Not so, Ms. Grubman told The Transom, explaining that she had found a space for her place “in the 60′s off Madison Avenue.” She declined to be more specific, she said, because she had yet to sign the lease.
In the meantime, she said she’s trying to think up a catchier name than the originally proposed “Lizzie’s Bakery” and working out the menu. She wants her shop to be a William Greenberg’s-the well-known bakery for denizens of the East 80′s-but 20 blocks south. “It’ll be like that, for moms and dads to come in and buy a cookie or something,” Ms. Grubman said. Indeed, she told The Transom that she plans to serve “nothing fancy,” only “very simple food, like brownies, peanut-butter cookies and chocolate cake …. You won’t see crème brûlée on my menu,” she said.
You probably won’t see Ms. Grubman in her store a whole lot, either. “To say that you’ll see me behind the counter would be a lie,” she said. “The reality is that I have a P.R. company to run.” Ms. Grubman hired a pastry chef who is going to be cooking and using Ms. Grubman’s original recipes, as well as “family secrets.”
But Ms. Grubman said she won’t be an absentee owner. Though she certainly doesn’t look it, she said she’s been an avid cook for the past two years-not long after the incident involving her, a Mercedes S.U.V. and 16 patrons standing outside the Conscience Point nightclub in East Hampton kept her pretty much apartment-bound. (Ms. Grubman eventually pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and leaving the scene of an accident.)
“What basically happened is, through the past two years I’ve been living in my apartment, and baking was very calming to me and something that relaxed me besides working out. Working out and baking were two things that were like therapy. Before I went to jail, it stayed very close to my heart,” Ms. Grubman said of her cooking. “I’m not giving up on this.”
Michael Clarke Duncan’s Secret
Lingerie catalogs aren’t designed for a woman’s pleasure. And neither was the Interview magazine–Victoria’s Secret party held at the Maritime Hotel on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
The event was in honor of the store’s launch of a photo collection called Sexy , a limited-edition oversized publication that features 28 artsy, grainy black-and-white photos of supermodels-Laetitia Casta, Gisele Bündchen, Heidi Klum, blah blah blah-slithering around in black lingerie. Many of them, including Ms. Bündchen, Mini Anden and the stunning chocolate-skinned Elite model, Oluchi Onweagba-say that 10 times fast!-were slithering around the party as well.
But rather than inflame the kind of self-loathing that comes from having to buttonhole models and ask them about their thoughts on a) undergarments and b) the state of the world, The Transom decided to shake things up a bit and ask one of the genetically gifted male celebrities at the party about his underwear.
Our criteria ruled out legally beleaguered actor Steven Seagal, who stood near the bar, his massive frame swathed in a crimson pashmina shawl. Looking half past dead and shunning the press, Mr. Seagal seemed to be doing his impression of a cigar-store Indian. A really big one. We did not want to know about that infrastructure.
Then, bingo! We ran into Michael Clarke Duncan, the 6-foot-5 gentle giant from The Green Mile . He was in town to promote the film Daredevil , where he plays the massive villain Kingpin.
“This is lovely!” he said, absorbing the sights around him. He had just taken a picture with Ms. Bündchen, but wished that “Tyra Banks were here tonight.”
Before Mr. Duncan spoke about his undergarments, he gave us a lengthy discourse on his favorite women’s lingerie. Mr. Duncan, it seems, is a bit of a connoisseur.
“On women, I like negligees, but without stockings. No stockings. I like negligees and thongs and four-inch heels and up, as long as the girl has pretty feet,” he said.
O.K., next came the big question: What was his taste in skivvies? “On myself, I like Joe Boxers. Those are my favorite. The ones that button up the front are the ones I like-that way you don’t hang out when you’re walking.”
But don’t mistake Mr. Duncan for a prude. “Right now, I’m wearing ones that are black with a big, yellow smiley face down there!” he said. Then, with the panache of a Victoria’s Secret model, he loosened his belt, guffawed and gave The Transom a glimpse of his happy pants.
-Anna Jane Grossman
The Transom Also Hears …
… Actress Julianna Margulies has three words of advice for Al Qaeda: downward-facing dog . The former ER star was one of the “50 fabulous females” fêted at the Feb. 13 benefit for the AIDS charity Love Heals at Diane Von Furstenberg’s West Village loft, and she wasn’t letting the Orange Alert state of the city get to her. “I can’t live like that,” she said. “The people I know, we’re all defiantly not listening to the news and refusing to read the paper, because I think it just instills fear. And if I’m meant to go, I don’t want to know when it’s meant to happen-I’ll just go.”
But before she went-to another part of the room-Ms. Margulies left a message for the terrorists: “Don’t you think it’s time we all just lived in peace? I would tell them to all take a yoga class.”
– George Gurley
… Speaking of orange, Good Housekeeping editor in chief Ellen Levine turned some heads at Michael’s on Feb. 11 when she wore a blazing orange blouse to the media feeding trough. Ms. Levine told The Transom that she did think twice when she donned the blouse-with a black pantsuit-that morning before going to work. Her first thought, she said, was “I look like it’s Halloween.” Her second: “Orange is news, and I’m not going to let them take this color away from me.” Said Ms. Levine: “It was a defiant use.”
… There weren’t many strikes at Project Alabama’s bowling fashion party at Bowlmor Lanes on Feb. 14. Seems like every time one of the bowlers readied his approach to the lane, a headset-wearing employee would lead some scantily clad model across the expanse of lanes, resulting in a spate of gutter balls. Among those in the crowd: designers Zac Posen, Page Six columnist Richard Johnson, and Blondie front woman Deborah Harry.