The upcoming Broadway revival of Bells Are Ringing will sound in the Plymouth Theatre rather than the previously announced Broadway Theatre, aiming for an April 12, 2001, opening.
Observers say the switch from the 1,752-seat Broadway (where Miss Saigon roosts to Jan. 28) to the 1,079 Plymouth (where Jekyll & Hyde plays until Jan. 7) will make artistic sense for the show: The Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jule Styne musical has traditionally been recognized as a charmer rather than a spectacle.
Faith Prince stars as telephone answering service operator Ella Peterson, who gets involved in the lives of her clients, including a handsome but frazzled playwright named Jeff Moss, to be played by Marc Kudisch (who'll be exiting the aborning Thoroughly Modern Millie).
Previews will begin early March after a Feb. 20-25 tryout at the Palace Theatre in Stamford, CT. April 12 is the tentative date for opening.
Mitchell Maxwell, who is producing the show along with Victoria Maxwell and Mark Balsam for Momentum Productions, Inc., and Robert Barandes, told Playbill On-Line Nov. 17 that lyricist-bookwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green are "tweaking" the script, and working closely with director Tina Landau. When asked if songs from the creative team's other "New York shows" with Styne (the unlikely-for-revival Subways Are For Sleeping, for example) might be plundered to augment the score, Maxwell said "trunk songs" — including "It's Better Than a Dream," from the 1960 movie of Bells — have been considered, but he expected the original score to be heard. The show is not a revised revival.
Capitalization is $5.8 million. The company will number 28.
"What attracted me to the show was the fact that we had a spectacular talent in Tina Landau, who has a contemporary take on the show," said Mitchell Maxwell.
The show is still set in 1956, but the scenic elements will be "fabulous minimalism," a trend of the time. Playwright Jeff Moss' apartment, for example, is expected to be made up of a city skyline, a sculpture and a lima-bean-shaped coffee table, with the audience using its imagination to fill in spaces. The idea recalls the recent minimalist 1950s Damn Yankees revival, but Bells will take the visual idea even further, said Maxwell.
There will be a plexiglass skyline that glitters and rises and falls, changing the perspective depending on the setting — whether an Upper East Side penthouse or the basement of a brownstone, where "Susanswerphone" has its headquarters. The scenic design underlines the tension between the haves and have-nots, Maxwell said.
In the show, working-class Ella Peterson, falls in love with playwright Moss but hasn't met him: She only knows his voice and his foibles because she is his telephone answering-service operator.
"Bells Are Ringing, in its purest form, is 'Cinderella,' it's about a working person aspiring and not thinking she is worthy," said Maxwell, who said Landau's take on the show made him more excited about the project (he'd been trying to get the rights for almost 10 years). When Ella masquerades as "mom" on the phone, giving advice to Jeff Moss until she has to spring into action and aid him in person, it's not much different from the millions of people using the internet and pretending to be what they are not, he said.
"She hides behind her switchboard," he said. "What makes it contemporary [is that] so many people hide behind the internet."
Theatre fans know the score and the film version starring Judy Holiday (who created the role on stage), but, said Maxwell, "It's not a title like Guys and Dolls, it's not one of the titles that's done and done and done, so the theatrephiles will be really attracted and then there are the people who will discover it as a 'new' show."
Landau (Floyd Collins, Space) will direct; Jeff Calhoun (Annie Get Your Gun, Grease!) is the choreographer. Prince is a Tony Award winner for Guys and Dolls and played Belle in the Roundabout revival of Little Me.
The 1956 tuner was written with Holliday in mind. She was the longtime pal of Comden and Green. The trio performed sketch comedy in their younger days, billed as The Revuers.
A bookie posing as a classical-music record producer, a songwriting dentist, a detective, a neighbor who can cha-cha and a host of oddball clients are also part of the musical comedy mix. David Garrison has been mentioned for the role of the bookie, Sandor, and Beth Fowler has been mentioned for the role of Sue.
The libretto and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and score by Jule Styne offer a breezy, satiric, but sweetly affectionate view of then modern New York City, where subway rides turn friendly ("Hello, Hello There!"), walks in the park become reasons for singing ("Just in Time") and celebrity soirees can make a working-class girl feel inferior ("The Party's Over").
The score also includes "Mu-Cha-Cha," "I Met a Girl," "It's a Simple Little System," "Salzburg," "I'm Going Back," "Long Before I Knew You," "Is It a Crime?," "It's a Perfect Relationship" and "The Midas Touch" (some stage versions also have used the song "It's Better Than a Dream," which appeared in the 1960 film and is listed in a late run Playbill of the original production).
The staging was to have premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse Nov. 3, but was canceled due to the huge show's financial constraints on the nonprofit house.
Actress Prince has done much musical work in New York City in recent seasons, from taking over for Blair Brown in James Joyce's The Dead to following Donna Murphy in The King and I. She's best known for her Tony-winning Adelaide in the Guys and Dolls revival. She recently released an album of her latest cabaret show, Leap of Faith.
Director Landau's recent Off-Broadway credits include Space and Dream True, and she'll stage The Ballad of Little Jo early this fall at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre.