Broadway could use Jerry Herman's hopeful music, including "Tap Your Trouble Away," now more than ever, and Mack & Mabel would be the show to deliver it. But producer Jon Wilner told Playbill On-Line his planned revised revival of the Herman musical about silent screen legends Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett will not happen in January 2002.
Wilner said he's still working on the capitalization and has half the dough. A spokesperson for Wilner had previously announced Jan. 10, 2002, as an opening date for the bittersweet tuner that includes "Time Heals Everything," a Herman standard.
"We do need Jerry Herman now more than ever," Wilner agreed. Will we see Mack & Mabel this season? "Anything can happen," Wilner told Playbill On-Line.
Wilner had hoped to present the revised version of the 1974 cult hit in spring 2001, and even announced an opening and rehearsal dates, but a theatre was not available, so he bumped the musical comedy to the 2001 2002 season. Donna McKechnie, Douglas Sills and Jane Krakowski or Caroline O'Connor have been mentioned by Wilner as casting choices. Famed clown Bill Irwin (Fool Moon) is attached as a special movement director for the Mack Sennett comedy sequences in the show about silent screen star Mabel Normand and director Mack Sennett.
Krakowski, mentioned for Mabel, is a Broadway baby (Grand Hotel, Starlight Express) known for TV's "Ally McBeal." British actress Caroline O'Connor appeared as Mabel in Wilner's 1995 London mounting of M&M.
With all due respect to the performers, Wilner said, "The only thing I learned in London is that, ultimately, the score is the star of the show."
In the previous spring 2001 plan, Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) was to play filmmaker Mack Sennett, Jane Krakowski Mabel Normand and McKechnie their brassy cohort. All three actors appeared in the 2000 concert version mounted by Reprise!, the popular musical theatre concert series in L.A.
In the planned Broadway revival, mime and movement artist Bill Irwin will stage the silent Mack Sennett sequences — live pieces that are inspired by Sennett comedies. Dan Siretta is the choreographer of the musical numbers.
Wilner previously produced an award-winning version of the show in London in 1995, and the Broadway staging would be a hybrid of various rewrites of the piece, including changes made for L.A. by Francine Pascal, sister of the show's late book writer, Michael Stewart. Wilner told Playbill On-Line that a splashy revival of Stewart and Pascal's George M! is on his plate for the future.
Sills became a sensation in the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and was booked for Broadway's Assassins before it was canceled in light of the terrorist attacks on New York City. McKechnie is the theatre legend who rose from the chorus to shine in the glory of A Chorus Line.
When originally staged in 1974 with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the show was knocked for having a score that was at odds with the dark subject matter — mostly sunny songs mixed with a tempestuous relationship between the title characters that ends with the death of Mabel.
Wilner said the storytelling has been solved and the show is now a musical comedy that better mirrors the real story. "We're not dark," he said. "Francine went back to the true story. I'd put this Mack and Mabel book next to any book for a musical. The framework is Michael Stewart and 75 percent of the book is now Francine."
Although the genesis of this planned Broadway staging is the L.A. concert, Wilner said the production will be a fully-staged show, not a concert version. The orchestra will be on stage, however. Arthur Allan Seidelman, who directed in L.A., will helm on Broadway.
Wilner, the longtime ad executive who previously produced An Evening With Jerry Herman and Groucho, said his "first choice" for costume designer would be Florence Klotz.
What attracted Wilner to the project from the beginning is what keeps fans attached to the show: "The score!" said Wilner. "It deserves a chance."
In 1974, the Gower Champion-directed musical had a 66 performance run on Broadway (and a brief tour a few years later), but a cast album achieved cult status and spawned such cabaret and concert standards as "Time Heals Everything," "Tap Your Troubles Away" and "I Won't Send Roses." A song from the London version will be added. It's called "Mabel and Mack."
— By Kenneth Jones