By Jeeves to Sing in Pittsburgh in 2001, Prior to NYC; Ayckbourn Helms

News   By Jeeves to Sing in Pittsburgh in 2001, Prior to NYC; Ayckbourn Helms The veddy British Bertie Wooster and his dry manservant will sing in Pittsburgh in February 2001 in a pre-Broadway staging of By Jeeves, the Alan Ayckbourn-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
Edward Keith Baker is Jeeves and John Scherer is Bertie Wooster (with frying pan) in the 1996 U.S. premiere of  By Jeeves.
Edward Keith Baker is Jeeves and John Scherer is Bertie Wooster (with frying pan) in the 1996 U.S. premiere of By Jeeves. (Photo by Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

The veddy British Bertie Wooster and his dry manservant will sing in Pittsburgh in February 2001 in a pre-Broadway staging of By Jeeves, the Alan Ayckbourn-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

The nonprofit Pittsburgh Public Theater announced the production, to be directed by the show's lyricist-librettist, Ayckbourn, as part of its 2000-2001 season. It is the Public's first season under new artistic director Ted Pappas.

The new By Jeeves is presented in collaboration with Goodspeed Opera House, which in 1996-97 fostered the American premiere of a revised version of the Ayckbourn-Lloyd Webber musical, originally written and produced in London's West End 1975.

This revised Ayckbourn-directed version first surfaced in Scarborough, England, in 1996, and transferred to London's Duke of York's in July 1996, where critics embraced it. The American premiere at Goodpseed-at Chester opened Oct. 17, 1996, also under Ayckbourn's direction (with a new song, "Wooster Will Entertain You," added). It moved to the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and then the Terrace Theatre at The Kennedy Center in DC in 1997.

There had been hope then that the staging might move to Broadway, to one of the smaller theatres (the cast has about a dozen actors), but a transfer did not happen. Pittsburgh Public's Pappas said that details about a commercial future for the show would be negotiated by Goodspeed's executive director Michael Price, but added that the goal has always been Broadway. The musical draws on elements and characters of novels and stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves is the smart, dry, no-nonsense valet of the upper class British twit, Bertie Wooster.

Ayckbourn is the British playwright of Absurd Person Singular, Communicating Doors and The Norman Conquests. Lloyd Webber, known also as Lord Lloyd-Webber (a hyphen is added for Lords in Britain), composed music for Evita, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar.

By Jeeves will require all resources of Pittsburgh Public, Pappas said, so the theatre will be dark for a month during rehearsals and tech. The staging plays Feb. 1-March 4, 2001.

Scenic designer Roger Glossop will revisit his 1996-97 designs and reconfigure the set for the three-quarter O'Reilly Theatre, the Public's home in downtown Pittsburgh.

This is a return, of sorts, for Ayckbourn and the city known for steel: "In 1956, at the age of 17, I came to Pittsburgh as an eager school-boy actor in a thoroughly unconvincing beard to give a somewhat overeager performance of Macduff in Shakespeare's Macbeth," he said in a statement. "Forty-five years later, I'm looking forward to coming back. I think, on balance, I owe Pittsburgh."

Pappas thinks Lloyd Webber will likely pay a visit to Pittsburgh for the staging.

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The 2000-2001 Pittsburgh Public season also includes Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You (directed by Pappas), Margaret Edson's Wit, Velina Hasu Houston's Tea, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (directed by Pappas) and, pending rights, Michael Frayn's Copenhagen (directed by outgoing Public artistic director Edward Gilbert). A non-subscription holiday version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's A Grand Night For Singing will also be part of the 2000-2001 season.

Individual show tickets will not go on sale until early September.

For subscription information, call (412) 316-1600.