Busy director-choreographer Randy Skinner won't be doing double duty this fall, when he was scheduled to stage a concert version of Babes in Arms and choreograph and perform in the new Let Me Sing at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse.
The November Babes in Arms concert at the Kennedy Center has been cancelled, freeing Skinner to concentrate on the new conceptual musical, Let Me Sing, which is billed as "a musical evolution" that takes theatregoers on a historical amble through the American musical theatre, 1900-43. The show, a co-production between George Street Playhouse in New Jersey (Dec. 3-Jan. 4, 2003) and Charlotte Repertory Theatre in North Carolina (Jan. 11-Feb. 9, 2003), is directed and co-created by Bush, the new producing artistic director of Charlotte Rep.
André De Shields (Ain't Misbehavin', The Full Monty) is one of the six stars of the show, Bush told Playbill On-Line. The performers (four are yet to be announced) represent archetypes in the development of the musical theatre. Skinner is the song-and-dance-man archetype, De Shields is the black male performer archetype suggesting Bert Williams.
Skinner, best known as the tap creator for Gower Champion's original production of 42nd Street, and the choreographer of the current Broadway revival and national tour, said, "I was looking forward to directing Babes in Arms, but now I won't have to interrupt my rehearsals for Le Me Sing at George Street Playhouse, so I guess everything has a reason. I'm very excited about it because it gets me back dancing, which I love."
Let Me Sing is created by Michael Bush, Michael Aman and musical director Joel Silberman. Bush is a onetime instructor at Brooklyn College whose musical theatre lectures explored the idea that musicals prior to Oklahoma! were concerned with the idea of "Who am I as an American?" He suggests there was a shift with Rodgers and Hammerstein's shows, which asked, "Who are we as Americans?" (Bush added the shift back to "I" came with the musicals of Stephen Sondheim.) Under Bush's direction, a previous workshop of Let Me Sing at Manhattan Theatre Club featured Skinner (playing performers in the style of George M. Cohan, Ray Bolger, Fred Astaire and Clifton Webb), De Shields, Marc Kudisch, Beth Leavel, Gretha Boston (as an Ethel Waters type) and Karen Ziemba.
The score of the unique work, which seems to defy definition, includes "Some Who'll Watch Over Me," "You Made Me Love You," "Look for the Silver Lining," "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and more.
The work is a mini history of how musical theatre kept evolving, Skinner and Bush said, but avoids being academic.
"It has a lot of continuity in it, so it's not a revue," Skinner told Playbill On-Line. "Yet it's not a total book show. The six of us represent, throughout the history of the musical theatre, different famous characters at the time, and what was going on in their personal lives. There was a lot of heartache. People were singing their guts out and dancing their guts out, but behind the scenes there was a lot going on because of the Depression and the times and the politics and the black-white issue."
Bush was going to write a textbook using the thesis of musical theatre as the mirror to cultural identity, but was encouraged to explore it as a stage piece.
"My whole point is that the songs from the American musical theatre defined us as Americans to the rest of the world in a time period when the definition of Americans was cloudy," Bush said.
For more information about Let Me Sing, visit the Charlotte Rep website at charlotterep.org.
— By Kenneth Jones