The cast includes Brian Noonan (of North Shore Theatre's Beauty and the Beast) as The Preacher (a.k.a. Harry Powell) and Lynne Wintersteller (Off-Broadway's Closer Than Ever) as Willa Harper. A resident San Francisco-area company includes Lucinda Hitchcock Cone, Daniel Lachman, Julia Franks, Martin Lewis, Amy Washburn, Ron Pickett, Jeff Lowe, Laura Younce, Maddy Trumble, Nichole Younce, Alissa Anderegg, Daniel Olson, Ray Christensen, Sam Ayoub, Nick Kealy, Madeline Silverman, Courtney Brock, Kelcie Stranahan, Jennifer Lopez, Sam Haese, Darren Barrere, David Beal, Colton Bell and Jon Lutz.
John Bowab directs the show by composer Claibe Richardson and lyricist-librettist Stephen Cole, based on the novel by Davis Grubb. Musical numbers are staged by Diana Baffa-Brill. Musical director is Daniel Feyer.
Sets are by Ray Klausen (Brooklyn). Lighting designer is Chris Guptill. Loran Watkins designed the costumes. Opening night is Sept. 24.
Writer Stephen Cole told Playbill On-Line producers are coming from both regional and commercial venues to take a look at the show, and Bowab is attached as future producer.
The late Claibe Richardson wrote music for The Grass Harp. Cole penned After the Fair and the upcoming musicals Time After Time and Continental Divide. Director Bowab was the original associate producer of Mame and Sweet Charity and is known for directing for the stage (the 1983 Angela Lansbury revival of Mame, among others) and TV ("Golden Girls," "Cosby Show"). Bowab's plan is to develop the award-winning The Night of the Hunter at the Willows (which has a Broadway-size stage) and at other theatres before bringing it to Broadway in 2005 or 2006.
In the April 2003 workshop presentations of the piece, Ron Raines starred as the menacing Preacher.
Lyricist-librettist Stephen Cole won a 2000 Kleban Award for the work, and the piece earned an NEA grant for development.
A 1998 concept cast album of the score (on the Fynsworth Alley label) spread word of the West Virginia-set show, and Warner Bros. published the vocal selections, further raising the profile. The libretto is drawn from Davis Grubb's 1953 novel, which inspired the film.
The dark tale is about an ex-con who calls himself The Preacher and comes to the widow Willa Harper, seeking money that her hanged husband hid in a doll that belongs to daughter Pearl. Young son John is suspicious of The Preacher. When The Preacher brings violence to the family, the children flee and end up in the care of widow Rachel Cooper. A final confrontation brings the children to a new and more hopeful place in their lives (at Christmastime, no less).
The novel was made into a classic film noir directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum as the thug who has the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles.
Richardson, who died of cancer in January 2003, had "long harbored an ambition to make a musical of 'The Night of the Hunter,' and after we screened the film version and read the incredibly rich novel from which it was derived, we agreed to set to work on musicalizing a piece that was one part thriller, one part religious allegory and two parts heartwarming coming-of-age story," Stephen Cole wrote in liner notes of the 1998 album.
"As soon as I read the novel I knew that this was a musical," Cole told Playbill On-Line. "Despite the obvious thriller aspects of a Preacher killing widows for their money, the story and characters had such depth and warmth. It's really a battle between good and evil. The story is really the battle between this evil man and the little boy he is hunting. And it's a story of the ability of little children to endure and abide. So what we had was an exciting thriller and a warm coming of age story at the same time. The characters just had to sing. Words from the novel jumped out at me and became lyrics and with Claibe's classically country-flavored score it became a music theatre piece unlike others. Claibe, being from the south, knew these people and could make their music soar. We inspired each other to write more than just songs...there are long sequences of music, underscored scenes...songs, almost arias..."
At the time of his death, Richardson knew the 2003 New York workshop was planned. The piece has been refined over the years, Cole said, as recently 2002 (with tweaks in early 2003).
For more information about The Willows Theatre Company , visit www.willowstheatre.com.