John Scherer is bumbling Bertie Wooster and Martin Jarvis is his wise manservant, Jeeves, in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's staging of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Alan Ayckbourn musical, By Jeeves, Feb. 1-March 4.
Famed British playwright Ayckbourn himself directs the staging at Pittsburgh's major resident professional theatre. He penned book and lyrics for the musical comedy; Lloyd Webber, who attended Jan. 31 rehearsals and the dress rehearsal, is the famed composer. By Jeeves is a rewrite of Jeeves, a 1975 musical by Ayckbourn and Lloyd Webber that did not find wide fame. Official opening in Pittsburgh is Feb. 9.
Spokesman Tim Colbert told Playbill On-Line Jan. 31 that the run of the show is 83 percent sold out.
There is a hope the production might move on to a greater commercial future. That hope began several years ago when the U.S. premiere production was staged in 1996 (following a debut in London) at The Norma Terris Theatre, the developmental house in Chester, CT, run by Goodspeed Musicals. Although that staging played subsequent engagements in 1997 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, it did not continue beyond there. Goodspeed Musicals is now exploring the possibility of taking the Ayckbourn production to a commercial future in New York City, a Goodspeed spokesperson told Playbill On-Line.
Based on the dry, charming, farcical Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse, By Jeeves takes place in a church hall where Bertie Wooster is scheduled to give a banjo recital. According to production notes, "Jeeves, a lover of music, steals the banjo, forcing Bertie to improvise with a dizzying tale full of romantic entanglements and mistaken identities involving his friends and their love interests."
Scherer most recently worked with director Harold Prince on the world premiere of 3hree at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. He played Bertie Wooster in the U.S. premiere of By Jeeves at Goodspeed-at-Chester, the Geffen Playhouse, and the Kennedy Center. He received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for his performance. On Broadway, he appeared in Sunset Boulevard as Joe Gillis, and at the Goodspeed Opera House in George M.
Jarvis, one of Britain's most distinguished actors, starred in many award winning West End and Royal National Theatre productions of plays by Sir Alan Ayckbourn (Woman in Mind, Just Between Ourselves) and Harold Pinter (Other Places, Precisely); as well as Frayn, Hare, Nichols, Shakespeare, Shaw, and Wilde. He recently appeared at London's Almeida Theatre (The Doctor's Dilemma), Donmar Warehouse (Passion Play), and California's South Coast Repertory (Skylight).
"In order to accommodate the unique production challenges and the vision of the director and design team," according to a statement, the Pittsburgh Public's three-quarter thrust space, the O'Reilly Theater, will be changed into a modified proscenium layout. "Part of the excitement of live theatre is the need to be flexible and creative," Public artistic director Ted Pappas said in a statement. "I'm thrilled to offer Public Theater audiences a new experience..."
The cast also features top North American theatre talent, including the lauded farceur Heath Lamberts (the Shaw Festival, Beauty and the Beast) as Sir Watkyn Bassett, Emily Loesser (Titanic) as Stiffy Byng, Donna Lynne Champlin (as Honoria Glossop), Don Stephenson (Bingo Little), James Kall (Gussie Fink-Nottle), Becky Watson (Madeline Bassett), Ian Knauer (Harold "Stinker" Pinker) and Steve Wilson (Cyrus Budge III). Tom Ford, Molly Renfroe, and Court Whisman round out the ensemble.
Ayckbourn has written 56 plays, including the recent London and Off Broadway comedies, Communicating Doors and Comic Potential. He is the artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England. His works include Relatively Speaking, Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, Just Between Ourselves, How the Other Half Loves, A Chorus of Disapproval, Woman in Mind, A Small Family Business, Man of the Moment, Communicating Doors, Bedroom Farce and House/Garden.
Lloyd Webber is one of the most successful theatre composers in history, having composed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jeeves (later reworked as By Jeeves), Evita, Variations and Tell Me on a Sunday (later combined as Song & Dance), Cats, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard, Whistle Down the Wind and The Beautiful Game.
P.G. Wodehouse wrote more than 120 novels, magazine articles, musicals, plays, and film scripts. Born in 1881 in Guildford, Surrey, Wodehouse served as drama critic for Vanity Fair, which led to his collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton on the musicals Oh, Boy!, Leave it to Jane and Oh, Lady! Lady! He also wrote Oh, Kay! with George and Ira Gershwin.
Sheila Carter will choreograph By Jeeves. Musical supervision is by Michael O'Flaherty. F. Wade Russo is musical director. The design team includes Roger Glossup (scenic), Louise Belson (costume), Mick Hughes (lighting), and Richard Ryan (sound). The production stage manager is Daniel S. Rosokoff and the assistant stage manager is Hillary Cook. Most of that team was responsible for the 1996 London production, as well as the American premiere at Goodspeed.
Tickets are $28-$50. The O'Reilly Theatre is at 621 Penn Avenue, in downtown Pittsburgh. Student rates are available. For information, call (412) 316-1600, or visit the website at www.ppt.org.