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THE best comic chemistry to be found in the theater this week isn't the "marriage" of Matthew Brode rick and Nathan Lane.
It's the "three-way" of David Hyde Pierce, Edward Hibbert and Debra Monk.
These performers had a rehearsal studio full of Broadway producers, investors and theater owners rolling in the aisles Monday during a backers' audition of a new Broadway-bound musical comedy called "Curtains!"
For theater people, the show's subject is irresistible: It's about a musical that's in deep, deep trouble out of town.
Monk, a three-time Tony winner, played a tough-as-nails, mercilessly funny producer who's modeled, so it is whispered, on Broadway's very own Fran Weissler.
"Put a red wig on her, and it's Fran," says a person who attended the the backers' audition.
Hibbert, the plummy restaurant critic on Pierce's show "Frasier," played a flamboyantly gay English director.
"He was channeling Maggie Smith," says my spy.
Pierce, a Tony nominee for "Spamalot," played a showbiz-obsessed detective, on hand to solve the murder of the tone-deaf leading lady but much more interested in solving the show's second-act troubles.
Other characters include a bald and bespectacled producer said to be inspired by Shubert chief Gerald Schoenfeld (who attended the reading); a sexy young understudy who's suspected of doing in the leading lady; and a very powerful drama critic, not modeled on anyone because, as my spy says, "he's too tall and handsome to resemble any critic we know."
"Curtains!" - which has a score
by John Kander and the late
Fred Ebb - isn't exactly new.
"I've been involved with it for three years," Hibbert says. "This was the final presentation we're doing, and I was just delighted with it."
The original script, by the late Peter Stone ("Titanic," "1776"), has been revised by Rupert Holmes, who won a Tony for his musical "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."
The backers' audition went so well that Roger Berlind, the lead producer, is about to strike a deal with the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles to open "Curtains!" there this summer, and then on to Broadway a year from now.
Monk and Hibbert will definitely be in the show.
Pierce, who'll be sprung from "Spamalot" in April, has indicated that he, too, wants to star in "Curtains!"
This musical - completely original and not, thank God, based on a movie - sounds like an awful lot of fun.
In addition to Pierce's departure, other "Spamalot" casting news:
* Sara Ramirez, who won a Tony as the Lady in the Lake, is leaving the show Dec 18. She will be replaced by Lauren Kennedy, who starred in "South Pacific" at the National Theatre in London last year.
* Tim Curry also leaves on Dec. 18, and will be replaced by Simon Russell Beale.
* Hank Azaria, on leave to film his TV show "Huff," returns Dec. 2, and will be in the show until April.
TALK about a trouper.
On Monday, Maria Friedman, the star of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White," was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But she went on last night, and is planning to do both the matinee and evening performances today before undergoing surgery on Thursday.
Bob Boyett, the producer of the show, said: "Maria is our star, our friend and the beloved anchor of this company. We wish her and her family well over the next several weeks, and we look forward to welcoming her back for her opening night."
"The Woman in White," in previews at the Marquis Theatre, opens Nov. 17.
Friedman is expected to be out for at least a week after her surgery. An understudy will play her part until she returns.
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