An all-American cast has been announced for the all-British musical, By Jeeves, based on P.G. Wodehouse's stories of Bertram Wooster and his faithful butler, Jeeves.
With book and lyrics by Alan Ayckbourn and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, By Jeeves has been running in London since July 2. The U.S. version, at Goodspeed-at-Chester's Norma Terris Theatre, opens Nov. 7 and runs to Dec. 22. Ayckbourn is also directing.
The American cast will feature John Scherer as Bertie and Richard Kline as Jeeves, along with Merwin Goldsmith (Sir Watkyn Bassett) and Emily Loesser (Stiffy Byng), who had been planning to appear in a different Wodehouse adaptation, Betting On Bertie. That show, which originated at the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Cambridge, may also be coming to New York -- perhaps at same time as By Jeeves. Goodspeed representative Jennifer Wislocki told Playbill On-Line that her theatre hadn't even thought in terms of New York yet. "We've been in rehearsal for two weeks. Oh, and I'd heard the other show had closed." [According to a story in Variety, Betting On Bertie DID cancel productions in Boston and San Francisco, but that was so they could direct their energies towards a New York run.]
Chris Welch, of the Hasty Pudding Theatre, confirmed that Betting On Bertie had been canceled there but could give no further information about the producers and their plans. The theatre's replacement production will be Jackie - An American Life, about Jacqueline Onassis.
Asked if By Jeeves will be making any changes for its U.S. debut, Wislocki pointed out that the opening number in London, "Code Of The Woosters," has been reworked by Ayckbourn and Webber. Now called "Wooster Will Entertain You," the song has new verses but the same refrain. The show also features the U.K. Hit, "Half A Moment," which Webber ex Sarah Brightman included on her "Songs That Got Away" CD. The plot of By Jeeves concerns Bertie Wooster's banjo recital in a church hall. When Jeeves, a lover of music, steals the instrument, Wooster must improvise with "a dizzying tale of romantic entanglements and mistaken identities involving his friends and their love interests."
In his review of the London production for This Month ON STAGE, Caldwell Titcomb noted that "this silly enterprise first took the stage in 1975 and quickly folded -- the only flop in Sir Andrew's career... The clear intent is to offer us an evening of period parody in the manner of Sandy Wilson's wonderful 1953 creation, The Boy Friend. What we get, however, is nothing better than a college freshman show."
"By Jeeves is a small-scale offering, free of Webber's usual neo Puccini," continued Titcomb, "but the musical numbers sound depressingly derivative... It's hard to understand why Bertie gets to sing eight songs, whereas the titular Jeeves, notorious for being able to do anything, has only half a number..."
By Jeeves is Alan Ayckbourn's 50th work. Artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England, Ayckbourn's plays include Woman In Mind, The Norman Conquests, A Small Family Business, Absurd Person Singular and Bedroom Farce.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, winner of six Tonys, four Drama Desk Awards, three Grammys and five Olivier Awards, has composed, among others, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Aspects Of Love, Song And Dance and the current Broadway hits, Sunset Boulevard and The Phantom Of The Opera.
By Jeeves is choreographed by Sheila Carter, who also did the London production. The creative team includes Roger Glossop (sets), Louise Belson (costumes), Mick Hughes (lighting) and Richard Ryan (sound). Michael O'Flaherty serves as music director.
For tickets and information regarding Goodspeed-At-Chester's mounting of By Jeeves, call (860) 873-8668.