True to the developmental nature of Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre, the Chester, CT, venue where new works are tested before an audience, the Craig Carnelia musical, Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, has gone through changes in its spring staging that closes June 9.
Director and librettist David H. Bell told Playbill On-Line that the workshop production (it's not contractually the world premiere, nor was an earlier staging in Springfield, MO) has about 20 percent new material since its last public presentation, including a new opening number, "Waitin' to Hear." Bell said the Goodspeed audience talkbacks are helping guide the creators toward rewrites — fixing "those moments of unclarity."
For the final weekend of performances, New York producers are eyeing the material toward a future production. Sandy Faison of Apt. 4A Productions has been attached to the show as the lead producer and, Bell said, has prompted significant improvements in the country-music-kissed material.
One of the decisions made during the May 15-June 9 run was to give the show a title change. In its next staging, which Bell anticipates will be the fall, expect Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief to be called Cowboy Waltz, after one of the songs in the sentimental, folky, grown-up score by composer lyricist Carnelia.
"We're looking for a large Off-Broadway house or a small Broadway house," Bell said, adding that a regional tryout is also a possibility for the 11-actor show (the Goodspeed troupe has 12). At Goodspeed, tweaks were made in the show up until the final weekend, and the writers have a list of rewrites that will be addressed when the show goes into rehearsals toward its official world premiere.
Bell agreed that the show plays with adult themes — about heroes and ideals, parenting and growing up, giving up and letting go. In the show, a 40ish lawyer name Jim is hired to represent a studio hoping to silence an aging TV actor named Ben Gurney who insists on making appearances as his old TV character, Red Rock. But Red Rock is the subject of a major feature film and the studio doesn't want old Ben threatening their marketing. Complicating matters, Jim is a Red Rock fan from way back — he was essentially parented by TV programs.
The show was inspired by real-life tension involving former "Lone Ranger" actor, Clayton Moore, and the studio that was producing a new film version of the classic character.
Tony Award-nominated lyricist Craig Carnelia (lyricist of Broadway's Sweet Smell of Success) is the chief balladeer of Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief at Goodspeed.
Carnelia was nominated with Marvin Hamlisch for the 2002 Best Score Tony Award for Sweet Smell.
The Goodspeed Norma Terris company includes Brad Anderson (Fosse) as the fantasy-cowboy figure, Red Rock; Hal Robinson (Grand Hotel, "The Practice") as the reality older actor, Benjamin Gurney; Carnelia as the leader of the Greek-chorus trio of cowboy singers; Lisa Brescia (Aida national tour, Goodspeed's A Little Night Music) as grown daughter Jenny Gurney; Mark Edgar Stevens as 40ish lawyer, Jim, struggling to reconcile his youthful dream with what he's settled for; and Jacob Heimer as his younger self, Jimmy.
The cast also includes Blake Adams, Doug Ballard, Hunter Bell, Reed Birney and (rounding out the cowboy trio) Kevyn Morrow (Broadway's Dreamgirls and Smokey Joe's Cafe) and Roger Seyer (Broadway's Les Misérables and Miss Saigon).
As composer-lyricist, Carnelia penned the score for Broadway's Is There Life After High School? and contributed four songs to Studs Terkel's Working for which he received a Tony Award nomination. Off-Broadway, he wrote the music and lyrics for 3 Postcards at Playwrights Horizons. His next project is Imaginary Friends, a play with Hamlisch music about Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman.
Bell was the associate artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theater for nine years. While artistic director at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, he directed the world premieres of the musicals Elmer Gantry and Hot Mikado, for which he won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Direction.
Kay Cole choreographs Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief. She recently choreographed Do I Hear a Waltz? at the Pasadena Playhouse, Geffen Playhouse's Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks and Hudson Theatre's Grave White Way.
The music supervisor and orchestrator of Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief is Steve Orich, with musical direction by Heather Chittenden-Luellen, sets by Robert Little, costumes by Susan E. Mickey and lighting by Diane Ferry Williams. Michael P. Price is producer of Goodspeed Musicals.
The Norma Terris Theatre is Goodspeed Musicals' developmental venue, a space for new or newly-worked shows to be presented free of the pressure of critics.
Tickets are $35. For information, call the Goodspeed box office at (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.
To view Playbill On-Line's January Brief Encounter interview with Craig Carnelia, click here.
— By Kenneth Jones