Bette Midler to Play Superagent Sue Mengers on Broadway
The recipe for a successful one-character play would, at minimum, seem to call for two things: a powerful woman to base it upon and a powerful woman to play her. And a newly announced theater project surely has both: Bette Midler will perform on Broadway for the first time in more than 30 years in a play about the Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers, its producers said on Monday. The play, called “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” is written by John Logan and will be directed by Joe Mantello, and is scheduled to open on April 24 at a Shubert theater still to be determined.
Ms. Mengers, who died in 2011, was a rare female player in a male-dominated industry, alternately charming and ruthless (on behalf of her clients). Having climbed the entertainment industry ladder from a receptionist’s position at a boutique talent firm to an agent’s office at top companies like I.C.M. and William Morris, she went on to cultivate a roster that included performers like Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway and Michael Caine. After Ms. Mengers retired from the business, she continued to host informal salons for Hollywood’s elite at her Beverly Hills home.
Mr. Logan, the Tony Award-winning author of the play “Red” and a screenwriter whose credits include the James Bond movie “Skyfall,” said in a telephone interview that the idea for “I’ll Eat You Last” had been gestating since he met Ms. Mengers at a dinner in 2007.
“I thought she was an amazingly interesting woman,” Mr. Logan said. “And complicated — complicated in a way that is catnip to a dramatist.”
In 2011, Mr. Logan mentioned the project to Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair magazine, who was a friend of Ms. Mengers’s and helped him arrange interviews with many people who knew her — “friends, enemies, co-workers, clients” — in her life.
Mr. Logan said that Mr. Carter also helped him shape the central idea of the play, which takes place on a single evening. Asked what that evening was, Mr. Logan said he could not say. (“I mean, I want to say,” he added. “But I’ve been working on James Bond for so long, I’m so secretive about everything.”)
Ms. Midler “was always in my mind” as he wrote the play, Mr. Logan said. “She’s a proper stage animal. In a one-person show in particular, you need someone who can hold an audience, who connects with an audience in a really deeply visceral way, and that’s Bette through and through.”
Ms. Midler, the Grammy- and Emmy-Award winning star of “The Rose,” “Beaches” and “The First Wives Club,” began her Broadway career as an understudy and replacement cast member in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” She has since appeared in limited-run productions and concert tours like “Bette! Divine Madness,” which ended its Broadway run in 1980, and won a special Tony Award in 1974. Ms. Midler was also a producer of the recent Broadway musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”