Classical pianist Byron Janis, who started his career at 15 with Arturo Toscanini's NBC Orchestra, is developing a new musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with book and lyrics by Albert Innaurato. Plans are to develop a workshop performance of Hunchback in Havana this May, with a world premiere featuring an all-Cuban cast in December. Production sources say Janis hopes to bring the play to Broadway in 2001.
Hunchback may be Janis' first outing in theatre, but it is not his first in cultural exchange. In 1960, during the Cold War, he participated in a major cultural exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States. Recently, Janis performed two Chopin concerts in Cuba which were received warmly. Accustomed to breaking new ground in the classical music world, Janis came to the attention of conductor Toscanini's son-in law, the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who took him on as his first student and mentored him for four years. At one time, Janis also held the record for being the youngest artist ever signed to RCA Victor.
On April 13, Janis will celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Pro Musicis, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to nurturing and sharing "the talent of a new generation of world-class recitalists." The Pro Musicis gala will feature violinist Jane Peters and actress-singer Leslie Bega at Alice Tully Hall.
Another Janis recital, in Cuba, is expected to be announced and Playbill On-Line has learned that Leslie Bega, a former award-winning star of ABC/WB TV's "Head of the Class" will probably be involved. Bega, who took a professional hiatus while she was married to INXS drummer Jon Farriss, has since resumed her career. Bega said her performance of Janis' songs at the Pro Musicis event on April 13 marks her New York City singing debut.
Janis' upcoming Cuban recital will feature the music of the late Cuban composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona (1896-1963). There are two other Hunchback productions currently running. Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, featuring music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, is playing in Berlin. The Disney show received mixed reviews and is working toward a Broadway run. The other Hunchback, now playing in Las Vegas, is the Paris Hotel production of Notre Dame de Paris. A third Hunchback musical, penned by Dennis DeYoung, has recieved productions regionally.
-- By Murdoch McBride