The curtain rises Nov. 9 on the opening of A Class Act, the biographical musical about the world of late theatre songwriter Ed Kleban, at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II.
The opening was previously announced for Oct. 31, but the nature of shaping the world premiere musical prompted the delay. Previews began Oct. 3.
In the biographical show, Lonny Price plays real-life lyricist composer Ed Kleban, who is best known for his lyrics to A Chorus Line. Price also directs and co-wrote the new musical's book. The show spotlights Kleban as composer and lyricist; his composing skills were not as well known.
The cast includes Nancy Kathryn Anderson, Carolee Carmello, Jonathan Freeman, Randy Graff, David Hibbard, Julia Murney and Ray Wills. The show was constructed by co-librettists Linda Kline (Kleban's longtime companion) and Price drawing on a hundred existing songs by Kleban. The tuner is presented in association with Musical Theatre Works, which Price heads. Scott Wise (Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Fosse, State Fair) choreographs. "Additional material" is by David Wolf.
A Class Act features unpublished songs (music and lyrics) written by Ed Kleban. Most have only rarely been performed, until now. The songs were "inherited by his friends when he died in 1987," according to production notes.
Kleban died of cancer before he matched the success he had contributing lyrics to 1975's A Chorus Line, his best known work. A prominent fund in his name (The Kleban Award, from The Kleban Foundation, Inc.) doles out annual cash prizes to up-and-coming lyricists and book writers.
Among characters is late musical director Lehman Engel, the blunt, bigger-than-life mentor to many songwriters, including Kleban, Maury Yeston, Skip Kennon, Alan Menken and others. The famous BMI Musical Theatre Workshop is named for Lehman Engel.
Designers of A Class Act are James Noone (set), Carrie Robbins (costumes), Kevin Adams (lighting). Orchestrations are by Larry Hochman and musical direction is by Todd Ellison. Additional choreography is by Marguerite Derricks.
Co-librettist Kline has been committed to bringing his unpublished works to the stage since his death. She has written for television, and she also co-wrote the libretto for Theaterworks USA's The Secret Garden.
Director, actor and co-librettist Price is artistic director of Musical Theatre Works, which develops new works for the stage. His directing credits include Pal Joey (City Center), The Rothschilds, Juno and Sally Marr...and her escorts. As an actor, he has appeared in Master Harold...and the Boys, Merrily We Roll Along, Burn This, The Immigrant and Falsettoland.
Anderson received a 2000 Drama Desk nomination for her role in Jolson & Co., Carmello received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations (and won the Drama Desk Award, along with Bernadette Peters) for her role in Parade and won an Obie Award for her role in Hello Again, Freeman's credits include How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, She Loves Me (Tony nomination), and Platinum on Broadway, Graff received both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her role in City of Angels and appeared in High Society, Moon Over Buffalo, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and the Roundabout Theatre production of Hotel Suite, Hibbard appeared as Rum Tum Tugger in 2,197 performances of Cats, Murney returns to MTC after appearing as Queenie in Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party (Drama Desk nomination), Wills appeared in the recent revival of Wonderful Town at City Center Encores!
Tickets are $40. MTC's Stage II is at City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Call (212) 581-1212 or visit MTC online at www.manhattantheatreclub.com. Student tickets ($20 each) are on sale for all performances based on availability, one hour before show time (limit four per student with valid identification).
Actress Murney will hang around MTC this winter: She'll co star in the romantic science-fiction musical, Time and Again, with a score by Walter Edgar Kennon, at MTC's Stage II, beginning Jan. 9, 2001. She plays the "modern" girlfriend of a man who travels back in time to fall for an 1880s woman. Laura Benanti (Swing!) and Lewis Cleale have also been mentioned to star. Official opening for Time and Again is Jan. 30, 2001. There is hope the show will have a future commercial life on Broadway.
— By Kenneth Jones