Pop legend Billy Joel has talked about writing a musical off and on over the years. Now, it seems, words have evolved into action. A new, as-yet unnamed project with music by Joel and directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp will have a workshop production Aug. 2-Sept. 26. According to a casting notice in Back Stage magazine, a trade weekly, James Nederlander, Jr., is the producer. Stuart Malina will be the music director.
Nederlander did not immediately return a phone call, but a source close to the project confirmed that a workshop would take place. A call to Joel's manager referred all inquiries regarding the Tharp collaboration to Nederlander's office.
Joel is the multi-platinum singer-songwriter from Long Island who has steadily hit the pop charts since his breakthrough 1977 album, "The Stranger." Since then, Joel has recorded such records as "52nd Street," "Glass Houses," "The Nylon Curtain," "Storm Front," "An Innocent Man" and "River of Dreams." Among his best known songs are "Only the Good Die Young," "Just the Way You Are," "My Life," "You May Be Right," "Tell Her About It," "Uptown Girl," "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "A Matter of Trust."
Back in the fall of 1997, Joel went on the record that he was considering doing one and possibly two Broadway musicals—one based on his existing songs, the other reportedly using an original score. The New York Post published a story at that time saying Joel was working on a musical titled Piano Man. Joel's office issued the following statement: "I have discussed the possibility of a Broadway musical based on my songs with several Broadway production people. Anything that has transpired to date is purely exploratory and pre-workshop. Accordingly, we are not encouraging speculation right now, but don't rule anything out."
Joel is only the latest pop musician to venture into the world of theatre. Past pop artists who have crossed over (with varying success) include: Paul Simon (The Capeman), Harry Connick, Jr. (the upcoming Thou Shalt Not) Pete Townsend (The Who's Tommy), Randy Newman (Randy Newman's Faust), Roger Miller (Big River), Barry Manilow (Copacabana and Harmony) and Dennis DeYoung (Hunchback), Jimmy Buffett (Don't Stop The Carnival), The Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever), the Pet Shop Boys (Closer to Heaven) and the composing half of ABBA (Mamma Mia!). —By Robert Simonson