News of the demise of Mr. Bertie Wooster and his manservant, Jeeves, has been greatly exaggerated. As proof of their vitality, the box office for the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Alan Ayckbourn musical comedy, By Jeeves, opens Oct. 1.
John Scherer and Martin Jarvis will star as the famed P.G. Wodehouse characters at the Helen Hayes Theatre beginning previews Oct. 16. The Broadway opening is Oct. 28. Phone sales began Sept. 23.
Scherer and Jarvis played the roles earlier this year at Pittsburgh Public Theatre, where librettist lyricist-director Ayckbourn and composer Lloyd Webber were in residence to put finishing touches on the resident staging of the Broadway-bound show. After a delay of several months due to the lack of a suitable Broadway venue, producer Goodspeed Musicals finally snagged the intimate, 597-seat Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway, considered perfect for the jewelbox of a musical.
The idyllic world of 1920 British rich folk was rocked in recent weeks (as all of the world was). Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, two investors whithdrew from the project owing to economic jitters, and the show was "indefinitely postponed" by Sept. 18.
Lloyd Webber stepped in and found investors to take up the slack, and the show was on again two days later. The show is now billed as a limited engagement of 16 weeks, through Feb. 3, 2002, although if audiences and critics fall in love with the tea party of a show, Jeeves and Wooster will likely be brewing on Broadway well into 2002. *
The cast, announced Sept. 25, will include Donna Lynne Champlin (Honoria Glossop), James Kall (Gussie Fink-Nottle) Ian Knauer (Harold Stinker Pinker), Emily Loesser (Stiffy Byng), Don Stephenson (Bingo Little), Sam Tsoutsouvas (Sir Watkyn Bassett), Becky Watson (Madeline Bassett) and Steve Wilson (Cyrus Budge III), and Tom Ford, Molly Renfroe and Court Whisman.
Opening for By Jeeves is Oct. 28. The show is subtitled "a musical entertainment." It is drawn from the stories and characters of P.G. Wodehouse, the satiric chronicler of Britain's 1920s leisure set.
Scherer most recently appeared in the trio of one-act musicals, 3hree, and previously played the frivolous Bertie Wooster in the U.S. premiere of By Jeeves at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre in 1996, and in 1997 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. In D.C., he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for his performance (and also earned a Hayes nom for Arena Stage's On the Town). On Broadway, he played Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard opposite Betty Buckley. He graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University.
Jarvis, playing the always-correct manservant of the title, has appeared in many West End and Royal National Theatre productions of plays by Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, David Hare, Peter Nichols, Shakespeare, Shaw and Wilde. His credits include Peter Hall's The Importance of Being Earnest, Twelfth Night and On Approval, Almeida Theatre's The Doctor's Dilemma, Donmar Warehouse's Passion Play and South Coast Repertory Theatre's Skylight.
Ayckbourn also directed the February 2001 production of By Jeeves at Pittsburgh Public Theatre. That staging was documented in a video production filmed in a studio in Canada earlier this year. A home or broadcast release has not been announced. Designers for By Jeeves on Broadway are Roger Glossop (scenic), Louise Belson (costumes), Mick Hughes (lighting) and Richard Ryan (sound).
The musical, which has been in development for many years — beginning with a seminal work by Lloyd Webber and Ayckbourn called Jeeves, in 1975 — is described this way in the Broadway announcement: "By Jeeves takes place in a church hall where Bertie Wooster is scheduled to give a banjo recital. His faithful manservant, Jeeves, a lover of music, steals the banjo, forcing Bertie to improvise with a dizzying tale full of romantic entanglements and mistaken identities involving his friends and their love interests."
The 2001 Pittsburgh Public staging was a further revision of the 1996 show. Before its U.S. premiere at Goodspeed in 1996, the rewritten By Jeeves premiered at Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England and then moved on to a successful London run. The separate U.S. staging was developed while the London run continued.
Tickets are $75-$85. The Helen Hayes is at 240 W. 44th St. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200
A cast album of By Jeeves in on the Really Useful Records/Decca Broadway label.
Lloyd Webber is one of the most successful theatre composers in history, having composed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jeeves (later reworked as By Jeeves), Evita, Variations and Tell Me on a Sunday (later combined as Song & Dance), Cats, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard, Whistle Down the Wind and The Beautiful Game.
The composer is working on the film version of The Phantom of the Opera and, according to The Toronto Star, has enlisted director Robert Carsen, who has a background almost exclusively in opera, to stage a revised version of Sunset Boulevard. Carsen's staging of The Beautiful Game is expected in Toronto in fall 2002, according to The Toronto Star.
The British Ayckbourn is known for his hugely successful stage comedies, including The Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce, Communicating Doors, Comic Potential, Absurd Person Singular, A Chorus of Disapproval, Woman in Mind, Man of the Moment and more.