Fans of Bette Davis, Anne Baxter or the AMC movie channel have probably seen (and re-seen) the 1950 Academy Award-winning movie All About Eve, the story of young Eve, who rips and claws her way to Broadway stardom over the life and career of a superstar she purports to adore, the aging Margo Channing.
Ms. Davis' iconic line, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going be a bumpy night," has become a catchphrase for impending doom.
The movie (based on a short story) is the basis for the Tony Award-winning musical Applause, opening Thursday and continuing three weekends at Richey Suncoast Theatre.
"I haven't watched the movie, and I've told my cast not to, because they might get stuck on that characterization, and we don't want that," said Marie Skelton, director.
She wants the play to have a fresh, new look, even though it's set in the 1970s and based on a movie made two decades earlier.
In it, aging Broadway diva Margo Channing (Deborah Oles, Ethel in Footloose) hires the seemingly worshipful Eve Harrington (Lexi Balestrieri, title role in Evita) as an assistant. Everyone adores the quiet, innocent-looking Eve, but before long, Margo grows suspicious that Eve is after something more than a job straightening her dressing room vanity.
Perhaps it's Eve's way of going after any man who might be able to help her acting career, never mind that he might already be pledged to someone else. Her targets include Margo's favorite playwright, Buzz Richards (Bob Marcela, John Smith in Run for Your Wife), who is married to Margo's best friend, Karen (Kelly Hanley); her producer, the rather predatory Howard Benedict (Rich Aront, Stanley in Run for Your Wife); and, finally, her director Bill Sampson (Keith Surplus, Cornelius in Hello, Dolly), who, though several years her junior (which cuts her to the heart), is also Margo's fiance.
Margo can see right through Eve's ambitions, but others can't — not yet, anyway.
Eve, who has wiggled her way into being Margo's understudy, convinces Karen to help her trick Margo into missing a performance so Eve can make her Broadway debut. Interestingly, all the big-name theater critics just happen to be at the show that night, and they all give Eve rave reviews.
Slowly, but surely, others begin to see Eve's duplicities — but that doesn't stop Eve, who has turned into a fiercer, even more ambitious version of the old Margo. Watching Eve operate opens Margo's eyes to what really matters in life.
Interestingly, the production of Applause has been almost as dramatic as the show itself, though it has been supportive, rather than destructive.
Early in the summer, Ms. Skelton helped then-director Liz Onley-Waldorf choose the cast, then left for an extended vacation out West.
Rehearsals started, but a few weeks later, Ms. Onley-Waldorf developed health problems and had to step down (she's recovering now). When she asked for backup, Ms. Skelton cut short her vacation and headed for New Port Richey to step in as director.
Fortunately, because of their own scheduling conflicts, music director Joan Geschke and choreographer Linda Hougland had put the cast through their music and dancing paces early on, and Ms. Onley-Waldorf had done only basic blocking and little character study, which is the opposite of how musicals are usually put together.
"When I got back, I worked on characterizations and blocking," Ms. Skelton said. "It was almost like going back to square one because they are having to relearn how to deliver lines."
The cast doubled down and started coming to rehearsals four or five days a week.
"This was a really big challenge for the cast, but they did a fabulous job with it," Ms. Skelton said. "I'm very proud of them; they went on without their leader and they allowed me to step in and take over."