It's a season of plain janes and outcasts for Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, as Buddy, The Heiress, Phantom, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and La Cage aux Folles have been chosen to comprise the theatre company's 17th season.
Though the five productions have no specific connection, each centers on an outsider either forcing his way into the spotlight or finding contentment in being left alone and living differently from others.
Opening the season, Sept. 7-Oct. 24 (officially opening Sept. 15), is Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Alan Janes' musical about a skinny Texas kid with glasses whose mix of rockabilly and pop made him a legend. Buddy, featuring such songs as "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be The Day," played on Broadway in 1990. The musical, which alludes to but doesn't show the plane crash that killed the young singer-songwriter, was based on an original idea by Laurie Mansfield and features additional material by Rob Bettinson. Christopher Sutton (Blood Brothers at the Walnut) plays Holly in the musical.
Ticket sales have been brisk, leading the Walnut to add a matinee on the final date, Oct. 24. "We would have added even another date," Walnut spokesperson Maria Sticco told Playbill On-Line, "but we have to start the load-in for the next show [Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's Phantom]."
In this version of the gothic tale, a disfigured musician lives in a labyrinth under the Paris Opera House. This arrangement works tolerably well until he falls for a young opera and will stop at nothing to advance her career. Like Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, the Kopit-Yeston Phantom (running Nov. 9-Jan. 9, 2000) is based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. Alfred Uhry's Tony-winning The Last Night of Ballyhoo arrives Jan. 18-March 5, 2000. A look at a mid-scale Jewish family in "Gone With The Wind"-era Atlanta, Ballyhoo centers on two cousins, one pretty and socially accepted, the other more plain and getting desperate to find a husband.
Following the Phantom, the Walnut gets the Goetzes -- Ruth and Augustus, that is, authors of The Heiress, based on Henry James' novel "Washington Square." A 1995 Broadway staging of the show starring Cherry Jones won the Tony Award for Best Revival. The Heiress, running March 14-April 30, 2000, tells of a painfully shy young woman who falls in love with a dashing bounder.
Finishing the season, May 16-July 2, are Georges and Albin, the loving couple at the heart of La Cage aux Folles. The two are openly, contentedly gay (Georges runs a nightclub, Albin cross-dresses for the nightly revues), but they're suddenly forced to hide their sexual leanings when Georges' straight son wants to marry into a prudish family. Harvey Fierstein penned the libretto and Jerry Herman the score for this Tony winning musical.
Subscriptions to the Walnut season range from $40 (students/seniors) to $202. For tickets and information call (215) 574-3598.
-- By David Lefkowitz