Doctor Dolittle Musical Headed for the Stage

News   Doctor Dolittle Musical Headed for the Stage
 
Early 1998 will see the London debut of the multi-million dollar stage adaptation of the film Doctor Dolittle, written and composed by Leslie Bricusse, the lyricist of Jekyll & Hyde and Victor/Victoria.

Early 1998 will see the London debut of the multi-million dollar stage adaptation of the film Doctor Dolittle, written and composed by Leslie Bricusse, the lyricist of Jekyll & Hyde and Victor/Victoria.

The Apollo, a 3,400-seater on London's West Side near Hammersmith, will house the new musical with state-of-the art magic from the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Over 30 years, the late Hugh Lofting wrote 12 Doctor Dolittle stories that became children's favorites around the world.

Bricusse said, "This is a show with vast family appeal and we have every intention of making it into a memorable theatregoing experience."

Steven Pimlott, who directed the hit, still touring revival of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and was acting director last season at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford on Avon, will direct. Mark Thompson will design the production.

"Steven, the producers and I have a game plan in casting the title role but we haven't cast anything else yet," Bricusse said. Asked to reveal the star's name, Bricusse said the producers requested him to wait until the September press conference to be held in London. "Suffice to say, it will be a big name and a big surprise," added Bricusse.

According to Bricusse, the stage production "is being completely rethought. It will only loosely resemble the 1967 film." He said the adaptation has come along "splendidly" because "we were lucky that all the key elements -- all our first choices -- said yes."

The movie starred Rex Harrison in the title role, Samantha Eggar and frequent Bricusse collaborator Anthony Newley. Bricusse wrote the songs and screenplay. The film won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

"The movie had wonderful songs," said Bricusse. "We're keeping some, adding some (three production numbers) and changing some. I've rearranged a lot of the story. That has required a considerable number of new lyrics to six existing songs. There's a great difference between a movie score and a stage score. There are moments on stage when you can, strangely, do things that you can't do in a movie. It's all in the concept and how effective you make it. The requirements are different."

The musical will be "technically amazing," Bricusse said. "The Henson Creature Shop is doing the animals, so we're in good hands. I first talked about this years ago with Jim Henson and Frank Oz when I took Roger Moore out to do the Muppet Show, which was done in London, to sing 'Talk To the Animals' (fromDoctor Dolittle; it won the Academy Award for Best Song). We quite seriously discussed the possibility of doing Dolittle in the theatre."

Bricusse said you have to have realistic animals if you are going to believe in Dolittle's character. "In those days, it was all muppets and puppets. There were no animatronics (the special effects process of wiring prop animals to give them human characteristics), so I didn't consider the possibility." Jim Henson's son Bryan runs the Henson Creature Shop in a huge warehouse in London's Camden Town. "It's truly extraordinary what's going on there," reported Bricusse. The show is 90 percent there, Bricusse said, "but the writing won't be complete until Steven (the director) and I get into rehearsals. There'll certainly be changes based on the fact that (designer) Mark (Thompson) will have to work closely with the Henson shop. They'll have to work out where every animal will enter and exit."

Has Bricusse ever worked on a musical where there weren't a lot of changes? "No," he replied. "Musicals are complex enough because there're so many ingredients that have to be compatible, but Dolittle has an additional layer of complexity. Because of the animals, there're all sorts of production values. In addition, we have two casts: the actors on stage and the technicians who have to create, maintain and operate them." Bricusse said that there's a lot of unknown territory ahead, "but there always is when you try something that's not been done before. Of course, that's half the excitement."

He had high hopes of having three shows running on Broadway at the same time, but the closing of V/V on July 27 dashed that. However, there may be a new holiday musical in the offering. If all goes according to plan, Scrooge may be heading to Broadway. "Last winter, we did a successful stage version of Scrooge, my 1970 film musical starring Albert Finney," Bricusse reported. Newley had the starring role in the new show and Bricusse added eight new songs.

"We're giving New York a lot of consideration," he added. Scrooge would go head to head against Madison Square Garden Theatre's A Christmas Carol, which has music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lynne Ahrens (Mike Ocrent directed, and co-wrote the book with Ahrens); plus and Radio City Music Hall's Christmas spectacular.

Regarding the fate of V/V and J&H, Bricusse said, "What's vital to any show is good word of mouth. That sells tickets. Some of the longest running shows in England and New York didn't receive the greatest notices, but they attracted audiences. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. I try to write for audiences, not the critics."

Then it must have been nice coming to New York with J & H, which over four years on the road, established quite a following. "The New York previews were a project revisited since we learned quite a bit about it from our out-of town episodes."

How did he feel being Tony nominated for Best Book and not for Best Score when his score is so popular? "That was bizarre. It's difficult to comment on the strange things that cause things to be nominated. I've been nominated by surprise for Oscars and not nominated for Oscars by surprise. Things you think will win plaudits, don't. It also depends on how many other things you're up against. In the past few years, there're been a lot of barren Broadway seasons. This last one and the coming season have a lot of musicals. There are more people in Early 1998 will see the London debut of the multi-million dollar stage adaptation of the film Dr. Dolittle, written and composed by Leslie Bricusse, the lyricist of Jekyll & Hyde and Victor/Victoria.

The Apollo, a 3,400-seater on London's West Side near Hammersmith, will house the new musical with state-of-the-art magic from the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Over 30 years, the late Hugh Lofting wrote 12 Dr. Dolittle stories that became children's favorites around the world.

Bricusse said, "This is a show with vast family appeal and we have every intention of making it into a memorable theatregoing experience."

Steven Pimlott, who directed the hit, still touring revival of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and was acting director last season at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford on Avon, will direct. Mark Thompson will design the production.

"Steven, the producers and I have a game plan in casting the title role but we haven't cast anything else yet," Bricusse said.

Asked to reveal the star's name, Bricusse said the producers requested him to wait until the September press conference to be held in London. "Suffice to say, it will be a big name and a big surprise," added Bricusse.

According to Bricusse, the stage production "is being completely rethought. It will only loosely resemble the 1967 film." He said the adaptation has come along "splendidly" because "we were lucky that all the key elements -- all our first choices -- said yes."

The movie starred Rex Harrison in the title role, Samantha Eggar and frequent Bricusse collaborator Anthony Newley. Bricusse wrote the songs and screenplay. The film won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

"The movie had wonderful songs," said Bricusse. "We're keeping some, adding some (three production numbers) and changing some. I've rearranged a lot of the story. That has required a considerable number of new lyrics to six existing songs. There's a great difference between a movie score and a stage score. There are moments on stage when you can, strangely, do things that you can't do in a movie. It's all in the concept and how effective you make it. The requirements are different."

The musical will be "technically amazing," Bricusse said. "The Henson Creature Shop is doing the animals, so we're in good hands. I first talked about this years ago with Jim Henson and Frank Oz when I took Roger Moore out to do the Muppet Show, which was done in London, to sing 'Talk To the Animals' (fromDr. Dolittle; it won the Academy Award for Best Song). We quite seriously discussed the possibility of doing Dolittle in the theatre."

Bricusse said you have to have realistic animals if you are going to believe in Dolittle's character. "In those days, it was all muppets and puppets. There were no animatronics (the special effects process of wiring prop animals to give them human characteristics), so I didn't consider the possibility." Jim Henson's son Bryan runs the Henson Creature Shop in a huge warehouse in London's Camden Town. "It's truly extraordinary what's going on there," reported Bricusse. The show is 90 percent there, Bricusse said, "but the writing won't be complete until Steven (the director) and I get into rehearsals. There'll certainly be changes based on the fact that (designer) Mark (Thompson) will have to work closely with the Henson shop. They'll have to work out where every animal will enter and exit."

Has Bricusse ever worked on a musical where there weren't a lot of changes? "No," he replied. "Musicals are complex enough because there're so many ingredients that have to be compatible, but Dolittle has an additional layer of complexity. Because of the animals, there're all sorts of production values. In addition, we have two casts: the actors on stage and the technicians who have to create, maintain and operate them." Bricusse said that there's a lot of unknown territory ahead, "but there always is when you try something that's not been done before. Of course, that's half the excitement."

He had high hopes of having three shows running on Broadway at the same time, but the closing of V/V on July 27 dashed that. However, there may be a new holiday musical in the offering. If all goes according to plan, Scrooge may be heading to Broadway. "Last winter, we did a successful stage version of Scrooge, my 1970 film musical starring Albert Finney," Bricusse reported. Newley had the starring role in the new show and Bricusse added eight new songs.

"We're giving New York a lot of consideration," he added. Scrooge would go head to head against Madison Square Garden Theatre's A Christmas Carol, which has music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lynne Ahrens (Mike Ocrent directed, and co-wrote the book with Ahrens); plus and Radio City Music Hall's Christmas spectacular.

Regarding the fate of V/V and J&H, Bricusse said, "What's vital to any show is good word of mouth. That sales tickets. Some of the longest running shows in England and New York didn't receive the greatest notices, but they attracted audiences. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. I try to write for audiences, not the critics."

Then it must have been nice coming to New York with J & H, which over four years on the road, established quite a following. "The New York previews were a project revisited since we learned quite a bit about it from our out-of town episodes."

How did he feel being Tony nominated for Best Book and not for Best Score when his score is so popular? "That was bizarre. It's difficult to comment on the strange things that cause things to be nominated. I've been nominated by surprise for Oscars and not nominated for Oscars by surprise. Things you think will win plaudits, don't. It also depends on how many other things you're up against. In the past few years, there're been a lot of barren Broadway seasons. This last one and the coming season have a lot of musicals. There are more people in contention."

This season, there hasn't been one runaway musical hit. "Except the revival of Chicago, which is the biggest hit on Broadway. You must always come in prepared to fight. It takes a few weeks or months for all to shake down and a show to find its audience. We're in good shape at Jekyll & Hyde."

Dolittle has been in the works for four years, as Bricusse acquired rights from the Lofting estate; EMI, which was involved on the music publishing; and 20th Century-Fox which made the 1967 film. Fox was banking on Dr. Dolittle to bring it back from the financial ruin brought on by the expense of 1963's Cleopatra, but the film, said Bricusse, "got trounced. However, it's still a film I'm fond of. If it had cost half as much, it would have been twice as good. It was another example of bringing in the kitchen sink brigade. If they had just kept the story in the village (of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh). But Fox was reeling from the success of The Sound of Music, so it was decided Dolittle had to go on a great adventure. It didn't hold."

Bricusse was born into a small, unmusical Wimbledon, England working class family (and now lives in a village on the south coast of France). "As a child, growing up during World War II," he recalled, "I adored those Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies. Much later at Cambridge, I fell back on those for my extra curricular activities in the musical revue clubs."

He wrote his first revue at Cambridge, which proved so popular it was moved to London. That led to his first screenplay and score. "Bea Lillie saw me in the revue and invited me to be her leading man in her Evening with Beatrice Lillie," said Bricusse. "She became a dear friend, and a great influence on my life. Bea was more than a mentor, she became like my mother. Through her, Evie (his wife) and I met the entire world."

Another major influence was Newley. "We met dating the same woman," recalled Bricusse. "He was a very successful juvenile in films and I sent him some songs, which he recorded. Then he suggested we write something." That something included the stage musicals Stop the World--I Want To Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd.

Not counting his numerous British awards, Bricusse has been nominated for four Tony Awards, eight Academy Awards, and six Grammys. He's won a Grammy and two Oscars -- Best Song, "Talk To the Animals" and Best Score (with Henry Mancini) for Victor/Victoria.

Adapting V/V to the stage took how long? "A fairly large portion of a lifetime," said Bricusse,laughing. "We toyed with the idea after the movie did well. We knew if Julie would do it, we had one of the great Broadway stars. But a lot of things happened. Everyone was busy doing other things. Blake went from movie to movie to movie. Hank (Mancini) always had his recordings and concert tours. In the late 80s, Blake got sick. And there was Julie. We'd always said we would present Victor/Victoria to her as we would any Broadway star. We didn't want it to be a family decision. She had to like it professionally and not just as the wife of the author and director."

There were delays of every conceivable nature. "It took forever to put together," said Bricusse. "That's when I learned you can't wait for one project. You have to get on with other things so that if there are delays or someone drops out, you've got something to turn to to keep you sane."

One of the disconcerting things about V/V was that every time you saw it, it was a different show. Do you like all that tinkering about? "There were always a couple of things I wanted to put in," replied Bricusse.

"Losing Henry at a critical time was not a good thing. We were enormously saddened. It was a great loss in many ways. We'd talked about doing a Broadway musical for years, but we'd never got to it. He was so busy scoring films. At one point, Blake said, 'We've lost Hank to the movies. That's all he wants to do now.' But it happened and it was the happiest collaboration."

Bricusse said there were two slots in V/V where he still wants to do something different. "Once a show is on its feet, it's difficult. You can't rehearse in the same way as when you're preparing to open. Now's my opportunity, before the national tour goes out. We have a new cast and a proper rehearsal period." Speaking of the growth process on J & H, Bricusse said, "We couldn't inject changes because we were on tour. It would've been terribly difficult on the cast. They do a show Friday, two Saturday, two Sunday, travel Monday, and open Tuesday. When do you rehearse without killing the actors?"

So, what's new? "I have two in the works," said Bricusse. "I work two years ahead of what I appear to be doing. In theatre, you quickly learn that a project has to wait for the right timing and the right set of ingredients -- the theatre, the creative team you want."

Henry's Wives will star Robert Goulet. "The second show," reported Bricusse, "will be a contemporary musical about Broadway. Thankfully, they're both originals! With projects that have rights complications, you learn to try to do projects that don't have any. They're coming along well. When they're finished, they'll be as finished as you can ever have a show until you start tearing it apart."

-- By Ellis Nassour

Today’s Most Popular News: