Once called Elaine's Domain, the show had a private reading in November 2005 with Lainie Kazan as Elaine. The work was one of the last projects composer Cy Coleman was working on when he died a year earlier, in November 2004. The show borrows old songs Coleman wrote with lyricists Carolyn Leigh and Dorothy Fields, plus at least one song with lyrics by Hotchner (Welcome to the Club).
Following the 2005 presentation, Hotchner decided he wanted to broaden his subject and make it not about Kaufman — whose Upper East Side restaurant, Elaine's, has lured celebrities for decades — but about the many lady saloon-keepers he's known in Manhattan.
The show will debut at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami in the 2006-07 season, with the new title The Duchess of Chutzpah. A creative team is being assembled. Hotchner is the project's librettist.
"I felt to confine it to Elaine made it too small," Hotchner told Playbill.com Jan. 30. "It's a similar show [for one actress, one actor and a frisky trio playing roles] but I thought I would like to broaden the character and not be confined."
Losing Elaine also means he doesn't have to get Kaufman's approval on the project's content. And Hotchner said he can now pull other songs from the Coleman catalog to flesh out the new character. "You can go all the way back to the '20s and find women who ran fabulous saloons," Hotchner said. "I've known several of these bigger-than-life [people], like Toots Shor."
Coleman, who penned cabaret standards such as "Witchcraft" and "The Best Is Yet to Come," and show tunes for Sweet Charity, Barnum and City of Angels, died of a heart attack Nov. 18, 2004, after attending the opening of the Broadway play Democracy.
Coleman, 75, was known for juggling a number of projects at once, and Elaine's, aka Elaine's Domain — one of several shows in different stages of development — had a libretto and songlist complete at the time of his passing. Except for one new number with lyrics by "Hotch" and music by Coleman, the score is made up of trunk songs that Coleman wrote with lady lyricists Dorothy Fields and Carolyn Leigh (who predeceased him).
"The day he died, that afternoon before, he had called me all excited because he found a song he did with Dorothy Fields that fit very well into a place in the book," Hotchner said. "He sang it to me on the phone. That night, he died."
In the 2005 reading of the earlier work, John Paul Almon played 12 different men in Elaine's life.
Hotchner, who had worked with old pal Coleman on Broadway's Welcome to the Club and its subsequent rewrite, Lawyers, Lovers and Lunatics, wrote a draft of a stage script for Elaine's.
"It was too literary, it was pretty much based on the book," Hotch said. "But [Cy] said, 'You know you could add some music to this for her interior thinking.' He said, 'I've got two women who wrote the greatest lyrics, and they are carbon copies of Elaine — Dorothy Fields and Carolyn Leigh.' He said, 'These are my songs over 40 years and she's had the restaurant over 40 years. You oughta hear these songs, they've never been a show and I'm very fond of them.' So we went over a lot of songs."
Leigh and Fields were known for their playful comic language, plaintive poetic lyrics and their often sexy turns of phrase. Coleman and Fields wrote "The Best Is Yet to Come," "Witchcraft" and a host of other pop standards, as well as the musicals Wildcat and Little Me. Coleman and Fields penned the scores to Sweet Charity and Seesaw, as well as a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt that was never produced.
"It Amazes Me," a well-known standalone pop song by Coleman and Leigh, found a home in the earlier Elaine's Domain project.
One of the songs from Eleanor, "Patch, Patch, Patch," was borrowed for Elaine's. Hotchner shared the Fields lyric:
After 50, it's patch, patch, patch
Each day there's some repair job you must do
A small crick here
A small twinge there
The rising gorge
The falling hair
So you stock up on adhesive tape and glue
After 50, it's patch, patch, patch
You curse those awful stairs you have to climb
A small puff here
A small grunt there
The aching back
The bones that crack
Plus the aspirin you're taking all the time
Hotchner previously said the 2005 work was not strict biography. Hotchner explained, "It's my celebration of Elaine. I've taken stuff from the book, but I've dramatized it. I've obviously exaggerated some things, taken license with some things. It's really a tribute to her, in dramatic terms."
Coconut Grove Playhouse bills The Duchess of Chutzpah as being about a "larger than life, died-in-the-wool New Yorker, who propels herself and her high-flying saloon venture into a mecca for the rich, the famous and the infamous."