“We’re all excited and happy. It’s been an incredible couple of weeks for us,” so says Neville Vakharia, director of marketing for the Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia. The high spirits are all about 3hree, a trio of short musicals that end their premiere at the Prince Nov. 19.
The run is almost entirely sold out for remaining performances, and New York producers have been heading to Philadelphia to scope out commercial possibilities for the show in the Big Apple. (A laudatory New York Times review, Nov. 16, didn't hurt, either.) “Lots of folks have been down to see it,” external affairs director Jane Moss told PBOL (Nov. 16). “There’s a great buzz.”
Harold Prince, directing for the first time in the Philadelphia theatre that bears his name, unveiled 3hree Oct. 25. The evening of one-act musicals — The Mice, Lavender Girl and The Flight of the Lawnchair Man — officially opened Nov. 4.
Legendary director Prince (Evita, Sweeney Todd, Fiddler on the Roof) staged only The Flight of the Lawnchair Man, a comical look at man’s desire to fly. Robert Lindsey Nassif and Peter Ullian penned the piece, about an average fellow who hopes to soar by attaching hot air balloons to his lawnchair.
Also on the bill are the ironic The Mice, by Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Julia Jordan, directed by Brad Rouse (who has served as assistant to Hal Prince since 1995); and John Bucchino and James Waedekin’s Lavender Girl, with Scott Schwartz (York Theater's No Way to Treat a Lady and the upcoming Broadway musical of Jane Eyre) directing. The choreographer is Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Paper Mill Playhouse's Pippin). "I thought 3hree would be a very speedy way of introducing a lot of talented people to an audience," Prince said, talking to Playbill On-Line. "To put on a new, full-length show takes a lot of time. To create a show that is 2 hours 20 minutes would take me three years. I'm a slow worker! Instead, I said why not find three one-act musicals. I would work on one, two other guys would take the other two, and we could do it in a year. And we have. I consider ourselves lucky. These are three one-act musicals, and they dovetail in a nice way — although I didn't plan it that way. I didn't put on too many restrictions. But I did say we won't do them on a unit set. Each show deserves its own vision and overture. And I wanted all nine [cast members] in all three of them.”
Discussing how he came to choose the teams of artists working on this production, Prince said, "A year ago this past summer I started to put the word out. I approached two men that I kind of mentored, Robert Lindsey Nasiff and Peter Ulian, and said, "I'd like to work with you. Would you get an idea for a one-act musical?" And they did. A wonderful new composer, John Bucchino, who is very popular, had written Urban Myths, which was a collection of eight one-act musicals. My daughter Daisy had said to me that there's one that would work really well in an evening of one-acts. That was Lavender Girl. So we approached him and he did more re writing, fleshed it out some and now it stands on its own.
"We got many, many ideas presented. There were some ideas that I didn't think that highly of, but these [selected ones] are very strong. We spent last year developing them and held a reading at the Director's Company last May. The reading went awfully well, I think. Marjorie came to see it and said `Let's do it.'"
Following 3hree, the Prince Music Theatre line-up continues with:
• Dec. 13-30: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, a puppet and special effects-filled adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ novel by Tom Key and Carolyn Cook. Prince Music Theatre literary associate Sarah C. Butts has composed the music, replacing previously announced Michael Fauss. Artistic director Ben Levit will direct, replacing previously announced Rosemary Newcott.
• A world premiere will mark the new year, Feb. 24-March 18, 2001: Charlotte: Life? Or Theater? adapted from a true story set in the south of France in WWII. Elise Thoron wrote the book and lyrics and Gary S. Fagin the music for this look at Charlotte Solomon, a Jewish artist in hiding who paints more than 800 pictures during her flight. Ted Sperling directs.
• The Silver River, April 4-15, 2001. Chinese dancers and instrumentations augment this mythological look at how night and day came to be separated. The book is by David Henry Hwang, author of the Tony winning M. Butterfly. Ong Keng Sen will direct the piece, which has music by modern classical composer Bright Sheng.
• May 12-27, 2001: A revival of Candide, directed by Ben Levit. Though never exactly a success on Broadway, the musical retains major historical interest, mainly because of its best songs and pedigree: Lillian Hellman and Hugh Wheeler adapting Voltaire, with Leonard Bernstein scoring and John LaTouche, Richard Wilbur and Stephen Sondheim contributing lyrics.
• Closing the Prince season, June 12-24, 2001, will be Our Sinatra, a revue of tunes made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes. The cabaret show, directed by Kurt Stamm, is still running at Off-Broadway’s Blue Angel Theatre. Supervised by Richard Maltby Jr. (Fosse, Ain't Misbehavin'), the performer-conceived production is a tour of some 50 songs (full tunes and medley versions) associated with Frank Sinatra, from "Witchcraft" to "Time After Time" to "These Foolish Things," and more. Our Sinatra started as an August 1999 cabaret show (seen at the famed Algonquin Oak Room), conceived and performed by pianist Eric Comstock, vocalist Christopher Gines and vocalist Hilary Kole, who will all reprise their performances in Philadelphia. Stamm and Maltby helped shape the current version, making some cuts and adding a couple of different tunes.
Stamm told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 8, 1999) that the production celebrates some of the lesser-played Sinatra works, rather than ubiquitous hits such as "New York, New York."
"We're steering clear of the stuff that is so cliched," said Stamm, "but there are hints of the hits in some places. It's more about digging in and finding the hidden gems, finding the orphan songs that weren't known until he recorded them." Consequently, listen for "These Foolish Things," "To Love and Be Loved," "Without a Song" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?"
Stamm, who is an artistic associate of Maltby's, first heard the trio when popular song historian Jonathan Schwartz recommended the performers for a Maltby-directed tribute to Jimmy Van Heusen in the Lincoln Center "American Songbook" series in October.
Next season at the Prince already has its first show booked: Lady in the Dark, starring Andrea Marcovicci. The staging has been long enough in the works for Marcovicci to have announced plans for the Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin musical during her concerts that opened the Prince’s current season.
Since starting in 1984 as the American Music Theatre Festival, the Prince Music Theatre has produced more than 80 musicals, 49 of them world premieres. Among the mountings were Band in Berlin and last season’s Running Man.
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— By David Lefkowitz
and Christine Ehren