By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated April 29, 2002 08:54 AM

Sophistication returned to Broadway Sunday night, with a substantial revival of the eternally ethereal Noel Coward romantic comedy “Private Lives,” starring Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) and Lindsay Duncan (the voice of TC-14 in “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace’). Among the opening night guests: Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson; director Mike Nichols with his “Wit” star Emma Thompson; Sir Ian McKellen; “Moulin Rouge” director Baz Luhrmann with his Oscar-winning production designer wife, Catherine Martin; Lauren Bacall; Amy Irving; and “It’s a very difficult play to do,” Nichols, 70, told Hanks at intermission. “It was written to the speech rhythms of Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. For anybody else to do it is like trying to do the sketches of Nichols and May.” Hanks, 45, asked Nichols if he had seen the very last Broadway revival, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, in the ’80s. (It was a disaster.) Nichols sternly shook his head no. Irving, 48, meanwhile, said hello to Thompson, 43, saying that she (Irving) had read an interview Thompson had once given about her first trip to Hollywood. “You said that the only person who talked to you at this party was Amy Irving, ” said Irving. “I’m so glad I was nice.” Thompson, wearing a midriff-exposing T-shirt, thanked her. The show, an elegant London import directed by Howard Davies, proved a big hit with the opening night audience, and despite a pouring rain, the crowd moved on to Tavern on the Green to greet the reviews — which were glowing.