A Class Act, the 2001 Tony Award-nominated musical about Broadway songwriter Ed Kleban, with words and music by the late composer-lyricist, makes its West Coast premiere at The Pasadena Playhouse May 3-June 16, prior to a run in Japan.
Director Lonny Price recreates his Off-Broadway and Broadway staging on the West Coast. Donna Bullock reprises her role as Lucy, a longtime girlfriend of Kleban's. The libretto is by Price and Linda Kline (who was Kleban's girlfriend in real-life). In its premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000 and on Broadway in spring 2001, Price played the lead role of Kleban, who struggles with neuroses and anxiety as he writes hundreds of songs and yearns for Broadway success — which he only achieves writing Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning lyrics to Marvin Hamlisch's music for A Chorus Line. The show is a valentine to the people who make and love musicals.
Official opening at Pasadena Playhouse is May 12. The California staging anticipates an English-language Tokyo production using elements of the Pasadena show. The Tokyo staging is July 12-28 at the Akasaka Act Theatre.
Marty Bell, Chase Mishkin and Arielle Tepper were also producers of the Broadway production, in association with Tokyo Broadcasting System. Bell told Playbill On-Line that despite the work's short run on Broadway, it (like Bell's production of Off-Broadway's The Last 5 Years) will be done in theatres around the world and producers will eventually see their investment returned.
On Broadway, A Class Act was Tony-nominated for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book of a Musical and Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman), as well as Best Actress, Randy Graff. A cast album was released by RCA Victor. The score includes such Kleban trunk songs as "Paris Through the Window," "Say Something Funny," "Self Portrait," "Next Best Thing to Love," "Better," "Under Separate Cover," "Mona," "Light On My Feet" and more.
On the West Coast, Robert Picardo stars as Ed Kleban, with Lenny Wolpe (as Lehman Engel), Andrew Palermo (Bobby/Michael), Nikki Crawford (Felicia), Luba Mason (Sophie), Michelle Duffy (Mona) and Will Jude (Charley/Marvin) as Kleban's friends and colleagues in the theatre community. Craig A. Meyer is a standby.
Choreography is by Marguerite Derricks (repeating her Broadway job). Broadway designers James Noone (scenic), Carrie Robbins (costumes) and Kevin Adams (lighting) recreate their work in California.
Kleban died at the age of 48 of cancer, in 1987. Linda Kline and Lonny Price went to work developing A Class Act in 1995, as a fictional version of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, of which Kleban was a member and later a teacher. (Kleban himself had once tried to write about musical about the workshop, but it never materialized). Among the audience at the third reading of the show at Musical Theatre Works was producer Marty Bell, who would later co-present A Class Act on Broadway and is currently a producer of Sweet Smell of Success on Broadway.
"Marty made the bold suggestion that we turn our musical à clef into the true-life story of Ed Kleban, including Ed's part in writing A Chorus Line," Kline said. "Marty's voice boomed in our ears 'just tell the truth.' The truth of Ed's life lends itself to a fair share of laughter, tears, and life-affirming inspiration."
Robert Picardo (widely known as the doctor on "Star Trek: Voyager") last appeared at the Playhouse as Max, the would-be tenor in Lend Me a Tenor. His West Coast stage credits include The Waiting Room at the Taper, Three Sisters at La Jolla Playhouse, Beyond Therapy and Geniuses at the Coronet and The Normal Heart at the Berkeley Rep. On Broadway, he created leading roles in Bernard Slade's Tribute with Jack Lemmon and Albert Innaurato's Gemini.
Tickets for "A Class Act" at the Pasadena Playhouse range $29.50-$50. For ticket information, call (626) 356-PLAY or visit pasadenaplayhouse.org.
A Class Act will have one of its first major resident productions (minus input from the original Broadway team) May 14-June 22, 2003, at The Studio Theatre in Washington, DC. Serge Seiden will direct.