Back in late 1990s, a show called Tin Pan Alley Rag was on the semi-fast track to reach Broadway, boasting as it did two powerhouse lead roles, a naturally musical scenario, and a number of well-received regional stagings. New York hasn't happened — yet — but the tuner continues to show signs of life. The latest mounting will be at OH's Cleveland Playhouse with Lynne Taylor Corbett (Swing) directing and choreographing.
Mark Saltzman's play with music will run in Cleveland Nov. 27-Dec. 30, officially opening Nov. 30. Taylor-Corbett's background with the Play House helped get the production going, and her input has been helpful in revisions. "There are no new songs going in," Saltzman told Playbill On- Line Aug. 21, "but she had some interesting stuff about restructuring and the use of dance in the piece. Plus, with Lynne directing, we're hoping to have a path to New York, and that the production will be on a Broadway quality scale people will be noticing."
To that end, the musical will have a private reading in midtown Manhattan Oct. 10, with all the creative principles and the Cleveland Play House cast taking part.
Tin Pan Alley Rag features the songs of Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin and also explores the relationship between two of America's master songwriters at the height of their game. Set in 1915, when the bustling, raucous music publishing business centered in certain parts of New York City and came to be referred to as Tin Pan Alley, the story includes such historic moments as when Joplin, the King of Ragtime, visits the office of young, upstart songwriter Berlin. The musical portrays their encounters as sometimes antagonistic, often humorous and ultimately touching.
Songs from the show include "The Maple Leaf Rag," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "The Entertainer," "I Love a Piano" and others. The creative team for Tin Pan in Cleveland includes arranger and musical director Louis Goldberg (replacing the previously announced Lee Stametz), set designer Christine Jones, costumer Judanna Lynn and sound designer Jeremy Lee. Starring are Fred Berman as Berlin and Robert Jason Jackson as Joplin. Bob Ader, etsy DiLellio, Karen D. Gardner, Allie Laurie, Janelle Robinson, Tom Souhrada and Dathan Williams comprise the remaining ensemble.
Playwright Saltzman wrote the CBS television production "Mrs. Santa Claus," starring Angela Lansbury with songs by Jerry Herman. In film, he wrote "The Adventures of Milo and Otis" as well as screenplays for Disney and Tri-Star. In New York theatre, he co-wrote the musical revue A...My Name is Alice and as a musical composer, scored several plays at the Soho Rep. Writing songs and scripts for "Sesame Street," he earned seven Emmy Awards. He's currently developing a new musical titled Romeo, Romeo, which incorporates Neapolitan songs by the likes of Rossini and Leoncavallo.
Tin Pan was also staged at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1997, followed by runs at CT's Goodspeed Musicals (still called the Opera House then) and at FL's Coconut Grove Playhouse. For its L.A. run, Tin Pan received an Ovation Award nomination for Best Musical. It is Mr. Saltzman's first full-length work for the stage. The piece's last major staging came in late 1999 with an extended run at Philadelphia's Wilma Theatre.
Cleveland Play House artistic director Peter Hackett told PBOL (Oct. 8) that Tin Pan Alley Rag is happening owing to the theatre's relationship with director-choreographer Taylor Corbett. "She did the choreography for Elliot Ness in Cleveland last year," Hackett said. "She did such a marvelous job and was just such a great person to work with. I asked what other projects she was working on, and she came up with one that she was most enthusiastic about. I read the script and thought it was terrific. Lynne was really the initiator, and this is a match made in heaven because the music is so woven through the fabric of the piece. Lynne was drawn to the world of the piece with new staging ideas and opportunities for dance."
As for the musical itself, Hackett notes that significant changes have been made in the evolution of the show: "Lynne and Mark have been doing an enormous amount of work on the book — much more than we'd anticipated. That's a sign of how fruitful that collaboration is turning out to be. They did significant restructuring."
— By David Lefkowitz