Tucson and Phoenix audiences and critics have found The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm utterly embraceable in its December and January runs presented by Arizona Theatre Company, but the show's New York producers haven't yet jumped to bring it to Broadway.
By the time it closes Jan. 24, 1999 at the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix, Fascinating Rhythm will be the top box office earner in the 32-year history of the nonprofit ATC, the troupe announced Jan. 22. More than 37,000 theatregoers will have attended what ATC publicist Michael Rennie has called "a hip, sexy, modern take on the classic Gershwin (material)."
Capacity was at 99 percent for both the Tucson run at the Temple of Music and Art and the Phoenix run at the Herberger, according to Rennie.
The New York spokesman for the show's Broadway producers said the creative team, co-conceivers Mark Lamos and Mel Marvin, feel the show is solid in its 90-minute, intermissionless, starless regional version, but producers, including Manny Kladitis, are still mulling the commercial future of the show.
Fascinating Rhythm may go one of several ways, according the press rep Chris Boneau: A Broadway gig by April (in time for Tony Award consideration) at the Longacre, the only available Broadway house; a national tour prior to New York later in the year; or -- a remote possibility -- a hotel or resort sitdown, leading to a New York run. A decision should be public by early February. The musical had a dash of unexpected drama Jan. 10 when dancer-singer David Elder (Titanic) fell and injured his knee during a performance of the "Our Love is Here to Stay" pas de deux, necessitating a brief intermission. Elder continued in the show for several days, singing his role while others covered the dancing. The cast covered for him after he left the show Jan. 14 for surgery and subsequent recovery. He is expected to fully recover.
Kladitis' producing partners for the ATC tryout in Tucson (Dec. 5-27, 1998) and Phoenix (Jan. 1-24, 1999) -- and, it is expected, for a Broadway run -- are Columbia Artists Management, Inc., Magicworks, and Jerry Frankel. The Arizona staging is a co-production between ATC and the commercial producers, who put in pre-production money.
The revue is a revision of a musical presented at Hartford Stage in 1997 by Lamos and Marvin. Lamos is director and Marvin is musical and vocal arranger.
Rennie 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 and artistic director David Ira Goldstein also told Playbill On-Line they wished 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 already been extended a week beyond its original close date, to Jan. 24. Tucson tickets were only slightly easier to get, Rennie said.
"The audiences are loving it," Rennie said. He cited the "Broadway-bound" label, unanimous positive reviews, extra press coverage, the sexy cast and an eager theatregoing community as reasons for the smash.
"This is a very large retirement community," he said. "You put 'Gershwin' in (the title), you're going to get a response."
Yet, there are modern, experimental takes on classic songs: Actresses playing lesbian couple, for example, sing "Isn't It a Pity?"
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." Rennie said the desert run did not feature the little-known oddball number, "When It's Cactus Time in Arizona," from the Gershwins' Girl Crazy.
The 27 numbers represent a pared-down score compared to the 1997 Hartford staging, which reportedly had more tunes.
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 intended Broadway staging is expected to be a lift of the Arizona production, according to a Kladitis spokesman. ATC artistic director Goldstein 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. The same is true of Hartford Stage, he said.