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Stars turn out for ‘Virginia Woolf’ Broadway anniversary opener

Updated: October 14, 2012 2:28PM

NEW YORK — Saturday night, exactly 50 years to the day that Edward Albee’s groundbreaking play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” left audiences gasping at the sheer audacity of its marital slugfest, the acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater production opened on Broadway. And while the playwright himself, recovering from heart surgery at the age of 84, is physically frail, he nevertheless made it onto the stage of the Booth Theatre for curtain calls. Dressed in khakis, a blue work shirt and leather jacket, he held onto the arm of Pam Mackinnon, the director he so greatly admires, directing the audience’s cheers toward her, and toward the cast, which includes Tracy Letts (like Albee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright ), Amy Morton, Carrie Coon and Madison Dirks.

A display of Albee’s in-tact dry humor came by way of his pre-show taped announcement warning the audience to silence their cell phones and refrain from texting.

The audience was full of celebrities and Chicago friends.

Angela Lansbury, who said she had seen the original Broadway production of the play in 1962, but had not seen the play since, marveled at the brilliance of Albee’s writing: “Edward is just amazing in his complete grasp of human behavior,” said the actress, during one of the two intermissions of the three-hour play.

Lois Smith, the veteran actress who also is a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble, said she missed the Chicago production that opened in Dec. 2010, but would not miss this chance to catch it.

“Tracy is such a wonderful actor,” said Smith. “And he also happens to be a great playwright, too. That’s a rare thing.”

Hollywood film director William Friedkin, who has made movies of two of Letts’ plays — “Bug” and “Killer Joe” — was there with his wife, producer Sherry Lansing.

“We tried to see the show in Chicago but never made it because of a snowstorm,” said Friedkin. “But we flew in specially to see it here.”

Also spotted in the opening night crowd were Tommy Tune, James Earl Jones, Judd Hirsch, Jenna Fischer, Larry David and Dick Cavett.

Among members of the Steppenwolf tribe in attendance were actor-director K. Todd Freeman, Jon Michael Hill (now shooting the new TV series, “Elementary”), artistic director Martha Lavey, executive director David Hawkanson and casting director Erica Daniels.

Actress Carrie Coon’s whole family was in town from Ohio.

“We were with her all day,” said her mom, a registered nurse. “We all went shopping and had pizza and salads in SoHo.”

Steppenwolf’s Hawkanson said he was blown away by how young the audiences at previews had been.

“A whole new generation is discovering this play,” he said.

NOTE: Read Hedy Weiss’ review of the 50th anniversary production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in Monday’s Sun-Times, and Sunday night online at

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