Following several days of rehearsal, a company directed by Christopher Ashley (recent director of the revamped Seussical tour)and music-directed by Patrick Vaccariello will present a reading of the show in connection with Roundabout Theatre Company.
The reading is an exploratory testing of the material; no production dates or timetable or official announcement have been made. Theatres such as Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout routinely nurture new and old works in reading situations, though productions might be years off, or may not pan out at all.
Bierko (The Music Man, Thou Shalt Not) plays Capt. Big Jim and Chenoweth (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Wicked) has the title role.
This latest reading of the show is not linked to MadjaLook Productions, which had optioned the show in recent years and was developing a Broadway plan for it. The musical had two readings by MadjaLook in August and July 2002 under the umbrella of producers Sarah Rice (the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd) and John Hiller.
The rights are now in other hands, with Bierko, Chenoweth, Christine Ebersole, Erin Dilly, Chris Fitzgerald, Kim Chan, Sterling Brown, George Merritt and Edward Hibbert playing principal roles. The show is set in Colorado and involves the romance between Capt. Big Jim of the forest rangers and the title character, Mary Potts, proprietress of the Colorado Inn. The musical pays comic homage to silent-era film romances and operettas — the kind in which Colorado forest rangers, well, fall in love with kindly innkeepers.
Little Mary Sunshine opened Off-Broadway in 1959 and played more than 1,000 performances. The musical comedy has enjoyed a huge stock and amateur life all over the world, but never had a Broadway bow.
Bierko became a Broadway leading man overnight when Susan Stroman cast him as Harold Hill in her 2000 Broadway revival of The Music Man. Chenoweth won the Tony for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and plays Glinda in Wicked, the new Stephen Schwartz musical bowing this fall on Broadway.
In this new reading Little Mary Sunshine, Tony-winner Ebersole (42nd Street) plays Mme. Ernestine Von Liebedich (an opera singer); Merritt is Chief Brown Bear Chief of the Kadota Indians; Fitzgerald is Cpl. Billy Jester, a forest ranger; Dilly is Nancy Twinkle, Little Mary's maid; Chan is Fleet Foot, an indian guide; Brown is Yellow Feather, Chief Brown Bear's son; Hibbert is Gen. Uncle Oscar Fairfax, Ret., a Washington diplomat.
The musical opened at Off-Broadway's Orpheum Theatre in 1959 and played 1,143 performances. The original two-piano arrangement was expanded for orchestra for a cast album.
Hiller, the script's previous option-holder, said the book of the show was tweaked to make references to Native Americans more politically correct.
"There are good guys and bad guys in this: The bad guy is a Native American, called Yellowfeather," Hiller previously told Playbill On-Line. "The Besoyan estate that controls the rights put a change in the script. All the fake 'Indian-speak' has been taken out."
A member of the Lakota tribe was consulted on changes in the script, he said.
The story takes place in a 24-hour period in which the characters all fall in love, in the Rocky Mountains.
Offering such songs as "Do You Ever Dream of Vienna?," "In Izzenschnooken on the Lovely Ezzenzook Zee" and "Colorado Love Call," the show evokes operettas and Jeanette MacDonald-and-Nelson Eddy-style musical movies.
Besoyan's credits include the night club revue, In Your Hat, which sowed the seeds of Little Mary Sunshine. He followed Little Mary with The Student Gypsy, or The Prince of Liederkranz (Broadway) and Babes in the Wood (Off-Broadway).
At the time of his death, he had completed a full scale musical version of Paul Gallico's Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. It was never produced.