By Bill Hirschman
Illness has sidelined Valerie Harper from starring in the revival of Looped that was to kick off a new national tour at Parker Playhouse Feb. 26-March 3. The role of Tallulah Bankhead near the end of her career will be played now by another television luminary, Stephanie Powers.
Harper, best known for her television role as Rhoda Morgenstern, championed the play by part-time Fort Lauderdale resident Matthew Lombardo when it bowed in Pasadena in 2008, then in West Palm Beach’s Cuillo Theater in 2009, and when it moved to Broadway in 2010.
A news release Monday stated that doctors advised Harper to take “an immediate medical leave after having recently been hospitalized during rehearsals” two weeks ago. She was reported flying back to Los Angeles.
Playbill.com reported Jan. 15 that opening night in Fort Lauderdale had been delayed a few weeks because of Harper’s unspecified illness. In her memoir, I, Rhoda, released earlier this month, Harper revealed that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer prior to the New York run of Looped in 2010 but had kept it a secret to keep from endangering the show’s success.
“It is with deep sadness and regret that I will be unable to honor my commitment to the tour of Looped,” Harper was quoted in the news release Monday. “This play has been such a gift and it was my hope and intention to play this role again in the upcoming tour. But given my doctor’s recent recommendations, I must now put all my energy into getting well and renewing my strength.”
The Florida date was slated to be followed by runs in Baltimore Boston and Hartford with other dates being negotiated.
“Matthew and I are obviously very sad that Val won’t be able to continue,” director Rob Ruggiero said. “Working with her on this project has been a delight and has brought us both so much joy and laughter. Right now Val needs to focus on her health and the future. We love and respect her immensely and support her during this challenging time. We are very grateful to Stefanie for stepping in so quickly.”
Like Harper who has extensive stage experience including portraying the lead in Golda’s Balcony, Powers has balanced fame in the TV series Hart to Hart with forays in regional theater and in London.
Harper was quoted in the news release as saying, “In my opinion, Stefanie is the perfect choice to take over this role. She is extraordinarily talented and will make one terrific Tallulah! I have called to give her my blessing and I urge everyone to go out and see this hysterically funny play and support Stefanie’s participation.”
Ironically, Powers co-starred with Bankhead in the 1965 motion picture Die, Die, My Darling. The play Looped is a slightly fictionalized account of Bankhead struggling to dub a single line for that film.