The Footlights: Drew Lachey, Bailey Hanks, and Whoopi step in

Lacheybanksgoldberg_lGreetings PopWatchers! Welcome to EW.com’s brand-new, biweekly column devoted solely to the stage (show queens rejoice!), and a fine place to start in the wake of Labor Day weekend is to spotlight those workhorse types who step into long-running shows, often with very little rehearsal, and try to make firm imprints on well-established roles. So let’s jump right in and take a look at some shows with legs that have a few new gams on display:

Legally Blonde: This one is perhaps the most high-profile replacement casting of the year, thanks to MTV’s reality series chronicling the tireless search for the next Elle Woods. I wasn’t a big fan of the TV show — if actual casting was this defeating, antidepressants would be handed out at casting guru Bernie Telsey’s door — and was apprehensive about anyone being able to duplicate original star Laura Bell Bundy’s “Positive”-ly aces Elle, a physically and vocally demanding part that’s neck-and-neck with Patti LuPone’s Gypsy as Broadway’s most arduous current gig. But — surprise! — Bailey Hanks (pictured, center), the 20-year-old Southern belle winner, has put her own twist on Elle, using a combination of youthful physicality and cheery optimism. Not only is she a joy to watch, but she’s age-appropriate for the part, too.

Monty Python’s Spamalot: 7th Heaven‘s Stephen Collins and Dancing with the Stars champ Drew Lachey (pictured, left) have brought fresh energy to a show that’s been running since February 2005, and they’re doing it without going too far over the top. Spamalot is the kind of show that almost begs its performers to mug incessantly, yet amazingly, Collins and Lachey resist the urge, and playing King Arthur and his put-upon flunky Patsy respectively, they are the cuddliest duo I’ve seen in the roles to date. The guys bounce off each other with complete, gleeful ease, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone utter “Awww” after their (sort of) Act II duet “I’m All Alone.”

addCredit(“Lachey: Joan Marcus; Hanks: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images; Goldberg: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic”)

Xanadu: The teenyHelen Hayes Theatre on Broadway has been often standing room only since Whoopi Goldberg has joined the cast. But rumors of cuecard reading be damned (reportedly, she needed them for her first fewperformances), the Whoop is injecting her characteristic drollness into the role of saucy sister muse Calliope. And while Goldberg still seems to finding acharacterization in there (particularly in her smaller, secondary roleas Aphrodite), I actually preferred the one-time Oscar winner to her on-stage sparring partner, MaryTesta, who milks a laugh until its udder bleeds.

Goldberg’s additions to the script — asking the audience for a dollar to put in Testa’s toga, throwing in a new lineabout a missing thong — showcase a comedic edge that hasn’t been dulled by having to sit across from Barbara Walters every day. Whoopi’sunflappable too. My visit was one of the most unusual only-in-thetheater nights I’ve ever had: Patti Murin subbed for star KerryButler, and a mere 15 minutes into the show, costar Cheyenne Jackson had toabruptly depart thanks to an allergy attack, leaving hisunderstudy Curtis Holbrook (the show’s tremendous tap dancer) to exithis own role and step in…opposite Murin, Holbrook’s real-life girlfriend!Yet Whoopi never missed a beat, even with Huey Lewis sitting mere feetaway (eyeballing Tony Roberts’ elder statesman role perhaps? Hmm…).

So PopWatchers, have you managed to catch any of the above performers in their current Broadway runs, and if so, what did you think? Who have been some of your favorite replacement actors in previous stage roles? And has any actorever completely ruined a show you once loved?

Also, be sure to go to the comments section below and tell us what you’d like tosee covered in future editions of The Footlights! Untilthen, the ghostlight is on…

Comments (31 total) Add your comment
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  • Melanie

    I’m excited about having a biweekly stage column on popwatch!

  • NineDaves.com

    i haven’t seen collins, lachey, or hanks yet, but i actually saw whoopi last night, and she was fantastic! i thought she played well off tesa, though i liked the tesa/hoffman duo much better. still, whoopi really added a lot of sass to the production, which works perfectly with the shows tone and douglas carter beane’s brilliant book. xanadu is a self-mocking show. you’re all along for the joke. and whoppi played along as well. the limitations she has as a performer (not the best singer, not the best dancer) worked in the show. all and all, i think whoopi’s one of the best celebrity stand-ins i’ve seen on broadway.

  • collins

    theatre? really? it’s about frakkin’ time! i am so looking forward to this column. will you only be covering musicals or plays, too? there seem to be more easily identifiable talent (read: those outside the broadway world) in plays on the great white way than musicals. but musical theatre is so much more accessible.
    i am looking forward to discussions about the upcoming 9to5. two actresses from previous productions of “wicked” (the best show for women in years) stephanie j block and megan hilty, the amazing allison janney and songs by dolly parton. can’t wait!
    thanks for keeping us non-manhattan people in the theatre loop!

  • funkymono

    Thanks for adding a stage column! Another celeb on the Great White Way is Hunter Parrish from “Weeds,” who’s starring in “Spring Awakening.”

  • CJ

    Finally! EW needs to cover more theatre and this is a good start!
    And I haven’t see her, so I can’t comment on her performance, but you think Bailey Hanks is age appropriate? You see a lot of 20 year olds already in grad school at Harvard Law?

  • Agatha Crusty

    I’m so bummed I’m not going to see Whoopi, but I expect a play by play on Harry Potter showing his hairy peter! Thanks EW!

  • Oola and Rusty

    To CJ: Well, Elle is supposed to be just out of college, so she’d be about 22. I’d say 20 is closer to that than Laura Bell’s 27.

  • JoefromPA

    I saw Whoopi in Xanadu a few weeks ago at a Saturday matinee, and while the audience was eating out of her hand, I found myself really missing Jackie Hoffman. Whoopi seemed like she was just reading the lines, not relishing the sheer lunacy and hokiness of the show. Mary Testa (who totally should’ve been Tony-nommed) played much better off Jackie, as they fed off each other’s wackiness, whereas Whoopi played it dry. It’s a valid choice, but one that didn’t mesh with the tone of the rest of the show.

  • Jen

    Thanks for doing this column. Yea!!

  • donald

    thanks for this column!
    would love your thoughts on the two current wicked witches. i’ve heard all sorts of conflicting “reviews”!

  • Anonymous

    Great for EW for doing more theatre coverage, but maybe try to do these columns in a more timely matter. Whoopi is almost done with her stint in Xanadu. Whoopi was fine, but nothing special. Love that Curtis Holbrook, but I’m sorry about Cheyenne Jackson.

  • Don

    Thank you so much for adding more theatre coverage!!!

  • JP

    About time EW got some theatre coverage on a regular schedule! THat said, I can’t believe you actually compared the part of Elle Woods to the part of Rose in Gypsy. Elle Woods might be demanding athletically, but nothing in that block of corporate marketing dotted with paper-thin characters is remotely close to what Patti LuPone, or any actress playing Rose, has to find within herself and put on a stage eight times a week.

  • Jessica

    Thank god there’s finally more theater coverage on EW! I moved away from New York 2 years ago and I miss Broadway like mad.
    And, while I know this column will most likely be US-centric, maybe you and Aubry D’Arminio could team up for a very special column on the RSC’s much buzzed about Hamlet? Pretty please?

  • whimsey

    Legit theatre column? Super!! Keep up the good work.

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