London Calling

updated 06/03/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/03/2002 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Want to see American movie stars—and one pop icon—live onstage? Go east, young fan, to London's West End theaters, where suddenly Yanks are thicker than Ozzie Osbourne's accent. Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Matt Damon are all making their London stage debuts. "Every time I do a play," Paltrow—who is earning a few hundred dollars a week instead of her usual movie millions—told Britain's Daily Telegraph, "I remember why I wanted this job in the first place."

Matt Damon
This Is Our Youth, May 7-29, June 14-15

What: In Kenneth Lonergan's drama, Damon—who hasn't acted onstage since college—stars as Dennis Ziegler, a teenage drug dealer in New York City in the early '80s.

Why: Pal Casey Affleck checked out the original London cast of Hayden Christensen, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Paquin—and convinced Damon to sign up. "I just couldn't say no," Damon told Newsday. "It's so exciting to build a performance...and feel the audience's attention and if you're gaining it or losing it and then how to get it back."

What the critics say: Britain's Guardian called the clean-cut Damon "horribly authentic as the cocky Dennis," but the Daily Mail declared him "10 years too old" for the part.

Gwyneth Paltrow
Proof, May 15-June 15

What: The Oscar winner plays Catherine, the 25-year-old daughter of a gifted mathematician, who's wrestling with her dad's—and possibly her own—genius and insanity.

Why: "Just for the thrill of it," says Paltrow. (It certainly wasn't the reported $510 a week paycheck.)

Celeb Support: Dad Bruce and mom Blythe Danner—with Emma costar Greta Scacchi and pal Stella McCartney—upped the star quotient on opening night.

What the critics say: Calling her performance "almost flawless," one review noted that Paltrow uses her toes "to express annoyance, frustration, unhappiness and a whole range of emotions that some actresses cannot manage with their faces, let alone their feet."

Madonna
Up for Grabs, May 23-July 13

What: Playing a Manhattan art dealer, she wields her womanly wiles on clients of any gender.

Big scene: A lesbian kiss with castmate Megan Dodds.

Backstage buzz: A rep denies reports that Madonna demanded no eye contact from underlings. She did demand tighter security, though, especially after an ice-cream seller at the theater was discovered to be an obsessed fan with a shrine to the pop icon in his home.

What the critics say: Officially, Grabs won't be reviewed until May 24. Said a journalist who caught a preview: "The lady is not a stage natural...[but] I ended up loving the dame." Echoed fan Malva Green, 41: "She was nervous to start with but got a lot better."

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