Creative Team Announced for Rare Revival of Harburg and Arlen's Jamaica in Philly

News   Creative Team Announced for Rare Revival of Harburg and Arlen's Jamaica in Philly A revival of the brassy, little-known Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg musical, Jamaica, will begin performances May 31 at Philadelphia's Prince Music Theater, with revisions to the socially-relevant libretto.

The creative team in place to re-imagine the 1957 comic-romantic fable about a Caribbean girl named Savannah, "who longs to escape the confines and drudgery of the island for the modern American high life," includes director Ozzie Jones (a Barrymore Award winner for directing Freedom Theater's Black Nativity); choreographer Tania Isaac (a Philadelphia transplant from St. Lucia, West Indies, who will bring authentic dance into the show); new book writer Claudia Perry, revising the libretto by Harburg and Fred Saidy; new and "tropical" orchestrations by John Baxindine; and music supervision by PMT resident music director Eric Barnes.

Casting — including casting for the role of Savannah, which Lena Horne created — will be announced shortly. Opening is June 7.

The musical was developed as a show for Harry Belafonte, who ended up dropping out due to illness. Horne earned a Tony Award nomination and played opposite Ricardo Montalban. Ossie Davis was also in the original cast, as was throaty Josephine Premice (who sang a handful of rambunctious numbers). All are preserved on a cast album of the brassy score.

"Push de Button" might be the best-known song from the score. Horne would sing it in her club act and on Broadway in The Lady and Her Music.

The score also includes "Savannah," "Pretty to Walk With," "Incompatibility," "Cocoanut Sweet," "Little Biscuit," "Pity de Sunset," "Take It Slow, Joe," "Monkey in the Mango Tree," "Ain't It de Truth," "Leave the Atom Alone," "Yankee Dollar," "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today," "Napoleon," "What Good Does It Do" and "For Every Fish." "I became intrigued by Jamaica when we produced Stormy Weather, a show about Lena Horne, last season. As I read more about Jamaica the more I knew I wanted to put it back on stage," Marjorie Samoff, Prince Music Theater's producing director, said in a statement. "We were given access to original work tapes, notes and scripts. As we went through them, a completely different story began to emerge from that which David Merrick produced in 1957. My goal has been to restore as much of Harold Arlen and 'Yip' Harburg's vision as possible."

According to Prince production notes, "When a fast-talking New York businessman arrives to take over the island with plans for big money and fast growth, [Savannah] is swept up in his promises of fame and fortune. However, the island's conjuror, Mama Obeah, weaves her spell and in the swirl of magic, music and calypso, true love is discovered where least expected."

According to the original Playbill, the musical is set on Pigeon Island, "a mythical island off Jamaica. Time, the present."

The setting and time gave Harburg — known for his delicious wordplay and liberal leaning — the chance to take swipes at such social ills as consumerism ("Yankee Dollar"), celebrity, power and leadership ("Napoleon") and the nuclear age ("Leave de Atom Alone"). Putting these words in the mouths of Caribbean natives made the score an odd experience — part New Yorky social satire, part sulty island romance. It ran 557 performances on Broadway.

Jamaica will play Prince Music Theater May 31-June 22. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 PM, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM.

Tickets are $30 for preview performances (May 31-June 6), $40 for weekday evenings and all matinees, and $55 for Saturday evenings including opening night on June 7.

Tickets may be purchased now through UpStages by calling (215) 569-9700 or visiting the Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street or via the Prince website, princemusictheater.org.