Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Minnesota and The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization announced March 29 that they are co-developing the world premiere of a stage version of the 1948 film musical "Easter Parade," with songs by the late composer and lyricist, for a bow in February 2007.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas, a stage musical drawn from the Hollywood film of the same name, is already a regional sensation in major markets following its bow in 2004. Could Easter Parade — following its development in suburban Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota — become a regional hit that blossoms like spring daffodils?
For now, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which oversees rights of Berlin properties (and the works of other writers, including R&H), is looking at the Chanhassen, MN, staging as a test run for the material.
"This is a great developmental opportunity for this property," R&H's Bert Fink told Playbill.com. "We are making no predictions as to what its future may be."
Tom Briggs, co-librettist of the 1996 Broadway version of State Fair, which was also inspired by the film(s) of the same name, has been enlisted to pen the libretto for the new stage version of Easter Parade. State Fair remains a viable and much-licensed property in the R&H catalog. Chanhassen's resident artistic director Michael Brindisi will direct, with a creative team of his choosing.
R&H selected the Equity-affiliated Chanhassen — America's largest dinner theatre complex, with four venues and packed houses — based on the troupe's track record with past R&H shows.
Brindisi's post-Broadway staging of State Fair in 1997, a fresh imagining of the material, impressed R&H enough to trust Chanhassen again. State Fair ran there for 56 weeks, a major hit for the company.
"That's the project that put us in [R&H's] scope," Kris Howland, spokesperson for Chanhasssen, told Playbill.com.
The M-G-M motion picture starred Fred Astaire and Judy Garland and included such Berlin songs as "A Couple of Swells," "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "Better Luck Next Time," "It Only Happens When I Dance With You," and the title song that rhymes "bonnet" with "upon it" and "sonnet." Dipping into the Berlin song catalog and sweetening the score for the stage (as was done for White Christmas) might be an option for the team, but it's too early in the creative process to discuss the shape of the songlist, Fink said.
A live production of "Easter Parade" is not a new idea. Tommy Tune was once attached to a developmental process that would have brought the show to legit stages, but after two New York readings and a workshop in Australia, the project did not come to fruition. The new Easter Parade, under the title Irving Berlin's Easter Parade is separate and unrelated to the previous exploration of the material, Fink said.
The 598-seat Chanhassen Main Dinner Theatre will house the show at least four months starting in February 2007, taking it at least through the Easter season. (A long run is anticipated. A famous Chanhassen staging of I Do! I Do! ran a record 22-1/2 years.)
Easter Parade follows the ups and downs of a song and dance team in New York City during the time of vaudeville.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' owner and executive producer, Thomas K. Scallen, said in a statement, "This exciting event marks a milestone in Twin Cities' theatre history. It's a testament to our work and we are both thrilled and honored to take on the project."
Artistic director Brindisi stated, "We are thrilled that the Irving Berlin family, and the R&H Organization, are entrusting us with their work and allowing us the freedom to do it with our particular mark. In my 40 years in this business, I've never been part of anything like this. This is the kind of opportunity one only dreams about."
Ted Chapin, president of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, stated, "This is exciting for both of our organizations. At R&H we are constantly looking for ways to create new properties, and movies are a great source for popular stage musicals. Previously we helped develop Footloose, State Fair and White Christmas for the stage, and we are extremely proud of how quickly they have become popular favorites."
White Christmas comes to the Ordway Center in Saint Paul in late fall 2006.
About R&H's relationship with Chanhassen, Chapin stated, "State Fair [by Rodgers and Hammerstein] has special relevance in this case: the stage adaptation was co-written by our longtime colleague Tom Briggs, who is working on Easter Parade, and the first license we granted for State Fair after Broadway was to Chanhassen. I was lucky enough to come out to Chanhassen to see it; they did a superb job and I wasn't surprised when it went on to a phenomenal 13-month run. The chance to reunite Michael Brindisi, Chanhassen, Tom Briggs and R&H was too good to pass up."
"Easter Parade is the first of what we hope will be many such collaborations," Brindisi stated.
For more information, visit www.chanhassentheatres.com.