Tucson and Phoenix are about as remote as you can get when trying out a new musical, but the commercial producers of The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm are so pleased with the nonprofit test-run of the show by Arizona Theatre Company, the tuner has a one-way ticket to Broadway in April 1999.
A spokesman from producer Many Kladitis' office in New York confirmed (Jan. 14) that a Broadway house, the Longacre, is being sought for an opening by late April, in time for Tony Award nomination consideration.
Kladitis' producing partners for the ATC tryout in Tucson (Dec. 5-27, 1998) and Phoenix (Jan. 1-24, 1999) -- and, it is expected, for the Broadway run -- are Columbia Artists Management, Inc., Magicworks, and Jerry Frankel.
The 93-minute, intermissionless musical revue of songs by composer George Gershwin and brother lyricist Ira Gershwin is a revision of a musical staged at Hartford Stage in 1997 by Mark Lamos and Mel Marvin, who remain the production's co-conceivers. Lamos is director and Marvin is musical and vocal arranger.
Michael Rennie, public relations director for Arizona Theatre Company in Phoenix, told Playbill On-Line (Jan. 14) Lamos was "hands-on" during the Tucson run in December 1998, but no significant changes have been made in Phoenix. Rennie also told Playbill On-Line he wishes the show could extend in Phoenix. Only scant cancellation tickets are available for the popular run, which was sold out prior to its Phoenix opening and had been extended a week beyond its original close date, to Jan. 24. Tucson was not sold out, he said, but did not have the advantage of the full impact of reviews and word of mouth.
"The audiences are loving it," Rennie said. "It's a hip, sexy, modern take on the classic Gershwin (material)." He cited the "Broadway-bound" label, unanimous positive reviews, extra press coverage, the sexy cast and an eager theatregoing community as reasons the show is one of the biggest ever sellers for ATC Phoenix.
"This is a very large retirement community," he said. "You put 'Gershwin' in (the title), you're going to get a response."
For the Arizona stagings, David Marques choreographs, Cynthia Kortman is music director-conductor, Larry Hochman orchestrates, Michael Yeargan (Yale Repertory Theatre) is scenic designer, Peggy Eisenhauer (Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk) is lighting designer, Paul Tazewell (Noise/Funk) is costume designer.
The show features dozens of Gershwin standards, including "Lady Be Good," "The Man I Love," "I Got Rhythm," "Our Love is Here to Stay," "Embraceable You," "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and "Someone to Watch Over Me," as well as lesser-known pieces such as "I Love to Rhyme," "Home Blues," "Hang On to Me" and "Just Another Rumba." The 27 numbers represent a pared-down score compared to the 1997 Hartford staging.
The Arizona cast features Kena Dorsey (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum ), David Elder (Titanic ), Romain Fruge (Tommy ), Chris Ghelfi (The Life ), Jillian [sic], Karen Lifshey (Show Boat ), Brian J. Marcum (Paper Mill Playhouse's Gypsy ), Jill Nicklaus (Cats ), Sara Ramirez (The Capeman ) and Scott Spahr (On the Town ). Jody Ripplinger is the show's swing.
The Broadway staging is expected to be a lift of the Arizona production, according to a Kladitis spokesman. Rennie, of ATC, said the nonprofit company has "minor participation" in future productions of the show, meaning they will likely get some kind of royalty and a credit for helping launch the new work.
ATC shows play the Temple of Music and Art in Tucson prior to moving to the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. For ticket information, call (520) 622-2823 or 1-800-638-4253.