Over-analyzing the Actors Fund’s casting for ‘Valley of the Dolls’


If you’ve attended one of my “Valley of the Dolls” viewing parties, you know how much I adore the film.

So when playbill.com announced a starry cast for the Actors Fund’s upcoming benefit reading of the movie script (I wonder how they’ll adapt it for the stage?), I peed myself a little.

Let’s be overly judgy and break down the just-announced casting!

Neely O’Hara

Description: Neely is the good girl gone bad. Way bad. A running theme in Jacqueline Susann’s novel which the 1967 movie was based on, New York devours this freckled-faced girl and spits her out as a vitriolic pills and booze hound. Patty Duke pretty much gave the definitive performance in the film.

Actors Fund casting: Heidi Blickenstaff, an up-and-coming Broadway actress who’s earned some underground fame in [Title of Show] and playing Ursula for a spell in The Little Mermaid.

Grade: B+. I’m not that familiar with her work, but Blickenstaff seems like she has the camp quotient to pull this thing off. She played Ursula, after all. Though, she seems a bit mature for the role.

Helen Lawson

Description: Ms. Lawson represents old-school, leading-lady-belter Broadway. Musicals are created around her talents and brassy personality. Think Ethel Merman. She’s paid her dues, knows what she wants, and she gets it — and don’t you dare upstage her. Though, lately, she’s been hitting a rough patch in her career. Susan Hayward did an admirable job playing her in the movie, filling in at the last minute for an unreliable Judy Garland. Helen’s my favorite character in the movie (in the book, she’s even more bad ass).

Actors Fund casting: Charles Busch, a respected writer, actor, and female impersonator who specializes in vintage camp, honoring the legends of the silver screen and stage.

Grade: B. He’ll be fine. Though I’ve never really found his subtle approach to camp all that engaging. I prefer my camp a bit more over-the-top. Not really the most daring casting, either — I’d love to see LuPone or Buckley play this role — life imitating art, etc.

Anne Welles

Description: Poor Anne. She left her white-bred small-town roots for Manhattan to start a career and land a man, but came back heartbroken and bitter — and nearly addicted to those damn dolls. She also has the unfortunate luck of possessing a face so stunning, it drives every man mad and forces her into a career of modeling for Mr. Gillian’s beauty line. Barbara Perkins was absolutely ice-princess perfect in the movie role.

Actors Fund casting: Martha Plimpton, of “The Goonies.” Oh, she’s done some impressive stage work, earning Tony nominations and what-not, but she’ll always be Stef Steinbrenner to me.

Grade: ?: Not to be harsh, but Plimpton isn’t exactly “Gillian Girl” material, if you know what I mean. But an interesting choice, so I’m keeping my mind open.

Tony Polar:

Description: All the ladies are crazy about lounge singer Tony Polar. He croons one note, and they melt away. Although, only Jennifer North wins his heart — but is there something wrong with said heart, that only his moody, mysterious sister Mirriam knows of?

Actors Fund casting: Cheyenne Jackson, of the painfully stunning good looks and the voice that can melt butter.

Grade: A+. I don’t think you can cast the role any better.

Christopher Sieber and Tovah Feldshuh are also cast in the less interesting roles of Ted Casablanca and and aforementioned Mirriam. I’m sure they’ll be fine. Tovah can sit in a corner and smoke with the best of them, and Sieber I’m sure can spar with Blickenstaff with flaming gusto.

Can’t wait to discover who they’ll cast as Jennifer North and Lyon Burke!

8 thoughts on “Over-analyzing the Actors Fund’s casting for ‘Valley of the Dolls’

  1. I was there last night and while Heidi was hysterical, the big surprise to me was Martha Plimpton. She may not be a physical match, but she nailed the voice, the gestures and her timing was amazing. Barbara Anderson was a perfect dazed and confused Jennifer.

    1. Oh – how fabulous. The reports on Talkin’ Broadway really have great things to say about Heidi’s perf.

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