Previews began in Los Angeles April 13. The run continues to May 23. Scenic designer John Arnone has transformed the Geffen into a kind of giant performance tent.
With music, book and lyrics by New York City-based composer Jonathan Brielle and direction by Geffen producing director Gilbert Cates, Nightmare Alley is billed as "a dark musical set against the shadowy world of the traveling carnivals and tented churches that dominated the Dust Bowl era."
Barbour (A Tale of Two Cities, Assassins, Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast) plays Stan, "the con turned carnie and back again," who falls in love with Molly, played by Sarah Glendening of Broadway's Good Vibrations, "the dark darling of the traveling carnival."
Based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham (which was turned into a film with Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell), Nightmare Alley "plays upon fate, free-will and the consequences that await when you make the wrong choice," according to Geffen notes.
Zeena and Pete, "the vaudeville stars now relegated to side show cons," are played by Mary Gordon Murray (Broadway's Footloose, Into the Woods, Coastal Disturbances) and L.A. actor Larry Cedar (Reprise's She Loves Me), respectively. The "gruffly compassionate carnival boss Clem" is played by Michael McCarty (Broadway's To Be or Not to Be, Mary Poppins, Oklahoma!). The tarot ladies are played by Melody Butiu, Leslie Stevens, Anise E. Ritchie and Alet Taylor, who serve as the musical's chorus. The cast is rounded out by Roustabouts played by Travis Leland and Burke Walton.
Brielle told Playbill.com, "Gresham's novel details the descent of a man who becomes the Geek in a carnival sideshow. How and why we choose the things we do — even when we know better — are questions that are so big, I felt compelled to put them to music. Set in the 1930s world of carnivals and spiritualism in the style of Aimee Semple McPherson, Nightmare Alley became a chance to create a fun house of laughter, tears and song that is now all under the expert guidance of legendary director and circus connoisseur Gil Cates."
Brielle said his music for the show "is not period music but 'of the '30s' with a modern perspective. Our musical home base is an interval known as a flatted fifth, which gives Nightmare Alley the feeling of tension, uncertainty and mystery."
Composer-lyricist-librettist Brielle's credits include Himself & Nora (book, music, lyrics) at The Old Globe; composer in residence at Circle Rep in New York City; and words and music for Broadway's Foxfire. Visit www.jonathanbrielle.com.
The Nightmare Alley creative team includes choreographer Kay Cole, musical director Gerald Sternbach, orchestrator Irwin Fisch, costume designer Christina Haatainen Jones, lighting designer Daniel Ionazzi, sound designer Brian Hsieh and production stage manager Mary Michele Miner.
For tickets and information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com.