For the past three years, Thunder Knocking on the Door, a musical drama written and directed by Keith Glover, with original music and lyrics by Grammy Award-winner Keb' Mo', has been making the rounds of just about every city but New York. That could change in a big way in the spring if producers Mitchell Maxwell, Victoria Maxwell and Mark Balsam have their way.
The producers were eyeing Broadway in early March for the show, following a February try-out at Stamford, CT's Rich Forum, but now word has it the show will try out in Stamford April 25-30, and then come to New York soon after. (Prospects for the show squeaking into Tony eligibility for the 1999-2000 season are almost nil, however, since the play would have to open officially on Broadway by May 3 to qualify.)
According to Rich Forum spokesperson Richard Pheneger, the show was originally supposed to come to Connecticut in January, "then they asked us to move it to February for Black History Month. But with the situation in New York theatres, there wasn't anything available. Now, apparently, they've found something ready shortly after May 1. I've heard maybe Broadway but also Off-Broadway discussed."
Casting is expected to be the same as before, with performers to include Doug Eskew, Marva Hicks, Terry Burrell, Kevyn Morrow and Peter Jay Fernandez (as Marvel/Thunder). Designing the show are David Gallo (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Kevin Adams (lighting) and Jeff Landman (sound), with Daryl Waters & Zane Mark providing orchestrations.
* Back in October 1999, producer Mitchell Maxwell told Playbill On-Line the show would finish up its regional string of engagements at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland, Oct. 31, then reassemble at the Rich Forum, then try out in Las Vegas, and arrive in New York in March. Maxwell said he was in discussions with several Broadway houses, though it was too early to say where the show, which is capitalized at $3 million, might wind up.
Thunder takes place at the crossroads of here and there, where a shape shifter challenges a songstress to a magical duel on the delta blues guitar. Songs in the show include "Believe Me," "What Should I Do," "Rainmaker," "Thinking About It" and "Movin' On."
Glover discovered theatre when his mother took him to see For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf. An athletic high school student, in 1981 Glover wrote a play about football that came to the attention of New York's Young Playwrights Festival, where he was especially encouraged by mentor Ruth Goetz (The Heiress).
Thunder was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where it was first produced in 1996. It went on to receive productions at the Arena Stage and the Cincinnati Playhouse, winning the 1997 Osborn Award for Best Play from the American Theatre Critics Association.
Glover has written several plays, including Dancing on the Moonlight and Coming of the Hurricane. Keb' Mo' (Kevin Moore) received a Grammy in 1997 for his contemporary blues album "Just Like You."
As for the Rich Forum, the theatre will soon offer (March 4-April 16) its first-ever Fringe Festival -- although in its first year, the choices are not especially fringe-y. The company has hired four Equity directors to do eight plays in eight weeks, utilizing eight Equity actors. The eight plays are Isn't It Romantic?, Fallen Angels, It's Only a Play, I Hate Hamlet, Gigi (the play version), I Am a Camera, Marc Camoletti's Don't Dress For Dinner and Tina Howe's The Art of Dining.
According to Pheneger, the idea is to get audiences accustomed to the staged-reading format (with the audience seated around the actors on the Rich Forum stage) before hitting them with new plays. "We thought we'd start with plays audiences are familiar with and maybe next year do four new and four old, etc., to become like a mini version of the Humana Festival. Eventually we want to produce our own productions."
Following the Fringe Fest will be a mounting of the Brecht-Weill musical The Threepenny Opera, with Paula Suozzi, who's staged operas at the Met in New York and at Milwaukee's Skylight Opera, directing the Michael Feingold translation (May 9-13). Then it's the national tour of the comedy Art, with Judd Hirsch, Cotter Smith and Jack Willis (June 6-11).
-- By David Lefkowitz