It Brit: Jennifer Ehle
WHY HER? Best known in the U.S. for playing Elizabeth Bennet in A&E’s Pride and Prejudice, Ehle was genuinely stunning in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing — which won her a Tony against formidable competition (like her mom, stage legend Rosemary Harris).
WORK RITUAL Diet Coke and a shower.
WORST CAREER MOMENT In a production of Crimes of the Heart, ”I walked on stage with my skirt tucked in my knickers, and just felt this draft. It was like a big signpost: This is a comedy.”
DREAM COLLABORATOR Meryl Streep. ”Me and every other actress in Equity. She should just do a mass crowd scene, put us all in it, and make us happy.”
DREAM PROJECT Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
INFLUENTIAL MOVIE ”Xanadu — I just wanted pastel leg warmers and roller skates.”
NEXT She’s currently on screen with Ralph Fiennes in Sunshine.
It ”Blonde” Bombshell: Claudia Shear
WHY HER? After going through 64 odd jobs trying to get into the acting biz (”I had nothing. I was out of the game. I wasn’t in the game. I didn’t know where the game was being played”), Shear took matters into her own hands and got personal. The result? Her 1993-94 one-woman show Blown Sideways Through Life, an account of her experience in the service industry, made her a sensation. This year, Shear scored again, writing and starring in Dirty Blonde, her Tony-nominated paean to Mae West. ”We’re both from Brooklyn, both short, and she’s a tough girl,” she says of her stage alter ego.
WORK RITUAL Iced coffee, CDs, newpapers, and comfy clothes: ”When I’m writing, there are certain outfits I wear, like scuzzy old T-shirts that are really soft, and old sweatpants, cotton or cashmere ones, depending on the weather.”
WORST CAREER MOMENT At one show, after the part where Mae’s dress strap slips and she briefly flashes the audience, ”the curtain didn’t go down and the door didn’t open.” Shear was left standing on stage, ”with one hand cupping my breast, and you can see me thinking, should I go left, ‘Should I go down? Is the door gonna open?”’
DREAM COLLABORATOR Stephen Sondheim. ”But I don’t sing well enough, and I never will. But he’s so brilliant.”
NEXT Dirty Blonde in London and Los Angeles. Then writing and starring in the upcoming film Five Very Pretty Girls, about her true-life stint as a brothel receptionist.
It Flavor: Rebecca Gilman
WHY HER? With the July 26 opening of her acclaimed collegiate-racism drama Spinning Into Butter at the Lincoln Center Theater — not to mention the New York premiere of her lady-stalker play Boy Gets Girl early next year — this Alabama-bred playwright is poised to make the season’s splashiest Off Broadway debut.
WORST CAREER MOMENT Supporting herself by working as many as four jobs at a time, she once wound up as ”a hostess at a sushi restaurant, wearing a kimono — in Iowa.”
DREAM PROJECT ”I would love it if Billy Bob Thornton played the lead in my play The Glory of Living,” she says. ”I’m putting that out there in case he reads this — maybe he’ll call.”
NEXT An as-yet-unwritten play about the 1994 Major League Baseball strike. Working on it has ”been really fun. I got to hang out at Wrigley Field.”
It Step Sister: Susan Stroman
WHY HER? This lady of the dance is synonymous with innovative and inspirational moves. She wrote, choreographed, and directed the quadruple-Tony-award-winning dance musical Contact, and in her spare time directed and choreographed the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of The Music Man.
WORK RITUAL Before she puts the steps together for a new production, Stroman begins with the basics. ”I do a lot of research on the decade or the geographical location [of the show] and then I immerse myself in the music.”
INFLUENTIAL MOVIE ”Whenever there was a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie on television, it was a big deal in my house. My parents would plan dinner around them. In those days you ate dinner in front of the TV.”
NEXT Look for Stroman’s fancy footwork in a planned Broadway revival of Oklahoma!; a live version of Mel Brooks’ The Producers; and a collaboration with Harry Connick Jr.
It Stage Director: David Leveaux
WHY HIM? Sixteen years ago this A Moon for the Misbegotten director lost a Tony to Mike Nichols’ The Real Thing. It’s payback time: Leveaux’s own take on the Tom Stoppard play just won Tonys for best actor, best actress, and best revival. Plus, he just struck a two-picture deal with USA Films.
UNLIKELY SOURCE OF INSPIRATION ”A good bottle of cabernet sauvignon.”
WORST CAREER MOMENT ”Playing the messenger in King Lear, arriving on stage, and realizing that I actually didn’t remember the message.”
NEXT Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms with Mary-Louise Parker on Broadway this fall; planning a film adaptation of Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin.
It Playwright: Moises Kaufman
WHY HIM? With his Tectonic Theater Project, the Venezuelan writer-director aims to ”push the boundaries of what can happen on stage.” In his two hit plays, 1997’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and this spring’s The Laramie Project — for which Kaufman had actors interview Laramie, Wyo., residents about the murder of Matthew Shepard and portray them (and themselves) — he’s done just that.
WORST CAREER MOMENT ”There was talk of me getting the Pulitzer for Gross Indecency, but I found out I couldn’t because I’m not a citizen…. I’ve been with my boyfriend 11 years, and if he or I were a woman, [we could marry] and I’d be a citizen. So I realized I couldn’t get the Pulitzer because I’m gay.”
UNLIKELY SOURCE OF INSPIRATION ”The transcripts of a trial that happened 100 years ago and the murder of a young boy.”
KNEW HE’D MADE IT WHEN ”Gross Indecency moved to the Minetta Lane Theatre. There were lines around the block, and I asked the theater owner, ‘Who are all these people?’ He said, ‘Your new best friends.”’
NEXT Films of Gross Indecency and Laramie. There’s also talk of starting companies of Laramie in San Francisco, L.A., and Philadelphia.
The It Spot It City: Whoville
Home of the hapless Who citizenry in November’s anticipated Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Courtesy of production designer Michael Corenblith, it’s a ‘toon town gone mad — a winter wonderland that does Dr. Seuss proud.
It Disney Diva: Heather Headley
WHY HER? Blessed with a powerful voice and striking looks, Headley first woke up Broadway as Nala in the original cast of Disney’s The Lion King and this year won the Tony for best actress in a musical for Aida.
WORST CAREER MOMENT When the Aida tomb, with Headley and costar Adam Pascal in it, fell during a Chicago preview. ”It was terrifying — and in front of all those people! We fell out of it on the stage and were told not to move by all the doctors who came up.”
IF SHE WEREN’T ACTING, SHE’D… ”Be a lawyer — a prosecutor. Everybody’d be in jail!”
WHOSE CAREER SHE’D MOST LIKE TO HAVE ”Anita Baker. She came on the scene when rock was prevalent. She sang differently, looked different, she enjoyed it, and there wasn’t a lot of talk about her personal life. I love Whitney Houston, but I wouldn’t want her press life.”
UNLIKELY SOURCE OF INSPIRATION ”The people who were mean to me, the guys who gave me drama! They thought I couldn’t make it. Now some of them are calling to say congratulations.”
NEXT The Aida cast album (out this month); her own album (due next spring). Aida composer Elton John has promised to write her a new song or lend her one of his hits. Movie scripts are piling up, too.