The Richard Rodgers Theatre has started up a full Broadway season of John Kander-Fred Ebb shows. The much applauded "Encores!" concert revival of their 1976 Chicago opened to spectacularly splashy notices Nov. 14, with its original "Encores!" cast: Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton, Marcia Lewis. D. Sabella and (not so you'd notice, as Mr. Cellophane) the great Joel Grey. It will play at the Rodgers until Feb. 9, when it moves to the Shubert for an indefinite run. (Most of its cast have signed up for at least a whole year.)
Come spring, the Rodgers will house K&E's new musical about marathon dancing in Atlantic City -- Steel Pier. With Scott Ellis directing and Susan Stroman choreographing, it begins previewing March 27 for an opening April 24.
"It's totally original," said a beaming Roger Berlind, the show's producer. "Recently we had tow presentation for group-sales people, with about 800 people in the room at each. I started out by saying this is not based on a novel, play or film, and the place erupted in cheers."
David (And the World Goes Round) Thompson's book for the show IS a from-the-ground-up original -- by default, because nobody could land the Broadway musical rights to Horace McCoy's 1935 novel or Sydney Pollack's 1969 film about Depression-Age America, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
"Soooo," said lyricist Fred Ebb, "we took the background and did our own story. It's a very deep and grim film, actually -- magnificent, but very, very dark. We're much lighter. Ours is a romance. I thought the film was brilliant. It's one of my 10 favorite movies of all time, and I was disappointed [about the rights], but the way it turned out, I'm fine. Previews of coming Kander & Ebb attraction were sprinkled like confetti over the recent Abbott Awards when the songsmiths were cited with the President's Award -- a prize that touched composer Kander, who noted that the first Kander & Ebb show was directed by George Abbott (1965's Fora, the Red Menace, starring a teen-aged Tony-winning Liza Minnelli). By the way of entertainment at the ceremony, Tony winner Debra Monk belted out her big number from "Steel Pier, an archetypal torch-song called "Everybody's Girl." Karen Ziemba, performing an up number from K&E's The Happy Time, was also introduced as one of Steel Pier's main pillars.
Steel Pier will go into rehearsal in January, and Berlind is currently trying to corral the terrific workshop cast: in addition to Monk and Ziemba, that includes Gregory (Paper Moon) Harrison, Daniel (First Night) McDonald, Joel (Show Boat) Blum and Ron (How To Succeed) Carroll. The official casting announcement is expected in the coming week, once all the John Hancocks are in place.