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Good Morning, Starshine

Casts and Forecasts by Charles Nelson
April 17, 2001


The original Sue of Susanswerphone, Jean Stapleton, came calling at Bells Are Ringing's first Broadway revival--much to the pleasure of the show's current Sue, Beth Fowler, who embraced her warmly as she entered Sardi's for the opening-night party. And there were Ella Petersons all over the place at that event (two, anyway): Phyllis Newman and Sheila MacRae. Newman met Adolph Green, who wrote the show's book and lyrics with Betty Comden, when she went out for the job of Judy Holliday's standby about a year into the run. She got the gig--and Green.

MacRae made her musical-theater bow when she took Bells on the road: "Before that, I was doing straight plays and Shakespeare," she says. Her touring partner was her then-husband, Gordon MacRae. As an enticement, composer Jule Styne threw him a new song that Styne had preferred not to risk on the Broadway leading man, Sydney Chaplin: "How Can You Speak to an Angel?"

In the current Bells, David Garrison plays Sandor, the racetrack-betting roué who woos Sue as the bogus head of Titanic Records. Garrison was last on Broadway aboard the good ship Titanic. One of his shipmates from that show, Martin Moran (the telegraph operator), plays one of Susanswerphone's most colorful customers, a zany dentist who writes songs on an air hose. "I spent last year playing a Nazi in Cabaret, so there's something incredibly releasing about doing this wacky dentist," says Moran. He claims he got there without watching a single Jerry Lewis film, but he allows: "Maybe, from a cultural point of view, Jerry is in my bones somehow. When I started out in the business, I trained as a dancer--and, although I'm primarily an actor, I found that the physical stuff came to the fore [in Bells]. It's definitely a part where 'over-the-top' doesn't exist. It's sort of 'over-the-over-the-over-the-top,'but somehow there's permission to do that in this uncynical, sweet-hearted world of Comden and Green. I felt great liberty to leap."