Tourists have King Kong, Daniel Radcliffe and a show about Cher this season.
Theater buffs and lovers of classic comedy have something even better: Elaine May’s first Broadway appearance in over 50 years.
May, who famously teamed with Mike Nichols for “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May” on Broadway in 1960, is starring in a revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.” Previews begin Tuesday at the John Golden Theater.
May, 86, plays Gladys Green, the owner of a Greenwich Village art gallery who’s trying to hold on to her business despite the relentless march of Alzheimer’s.
Eileen Heckart received rave reviews in the role in the original 2000 production. Lonergan, who’s been friends with May for several years, always thought she, too, would be a good fit for Gladys.
“It’s been a real treat watching Elaine work,” he tells me. “For someone who is so brilliant at improv, she is extremely methodical. She wants to know how and why she is to get from the door to the table. And because she’s a great writer and director, she understands scenes extremely well.”
May avoids publicity and hasn’t granted an interview in years. But in private settings she’s fun and appealingly eccentric. She always has a pile of drugstore eyeglasses at the ready, with the price tags still on them. I once sat across from her at lunch and she had to try on three pairs before she recognized me.
Matthew Broderick, who starred in May’s play “Taller Than a Dwarf,” once offered to take the tag off a pair she was wearing.
“I like to leave it on,” May said. “That’s how I know which ones are mine.”
Broderick and Lonergan have been close friends since childhood, when Broderick’s mother introduced them to Nichols and May. She gave them the “Nichols and May Examine Doctors” comedy album, which they played over and over until they knew sketches such as “Calling Dr. Marx” by heart.
Lonergan became a fan of May’s 1971 film “A New Leaf,” which she wrote, directed and starred in as an eccentric heiress unaware that her new husband, Walter Matthau, is plotting to bump her off.
“I think ‘A New Leaf’ is a perfect movie,” he says.
He’s also a fan of another classic: “The Heartbreak Kid,” which Neil Simon wrote and May directed. Charles Grodin plays a newlywed who wants to ditch his gawky bride (May’s daughter, Jeannie Berlin) for the beautiful and WASPy Cybill Shepherd.
“That movie strikes the perfect balance between scenes of appalling behavior and great comedy,” Lonergan says.
May had a famously rocky career in Hollywood. As a writer, she had a hand in hits such as “Reds,” “Tootsie” and “The Birdcage,” but her résumé also includes 1987’s spectacular bomb, “Ishtar.”
And she never ducked a battle with the studios.
She stole the print of her movie “Mikey and Nicky” from Paramount, hid it in her garage and refused to give it up until the studio agreed to release her cut.
Lonergan had his own bruising battle with a studio over his movie “Margaret.” He says May helped him navigate that difficult time.
“I don’t want to go into all the political struggles,” he says, “but she’s had a lot of experience with those kind of conflicts. She gave me canny and smart advice. She was — and is — a good friend.”
You may not have heard of Katharine Mehrling, but she’s the most famous musical theater star in “all of Berlin,” to quote the emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, having starred there in “Cabaret,” “Evita,” “Hair” and more.
She’s making her first appearance in New York Saturday night at Joe’s Pub. In addition to showtunes, she’ll perform Édith Piaf songs — in French, English and German.
Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome to New York, Ms. Mehrling!
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.