Broadway's major movers-and-shakers were pushing and shoving to find a place in Sardi's fourth-floor Eugenia Room for a reading of a potential blockbuster musical that is pegged for next season. The reception was swell.
Dr. Seuss' The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is the show in question, and, as its full (if fumbly) title indicates, it's based on a classic fantasy by Dr. Seuss. Any teenaged boy forced to practice the piano will recognize it as his worst nightmare. The villain of the piece is the tyrannical Dr. Terwilliker, whose evil deeds culminate with a finale in which 500 kids play one grand (!) piano.
Although the show is subtitled "A Brand-New American Musical," most of its creators have a distinct British accent: Simon Callow, the actor (Room With a View, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and biographer (Orson Welles, Charles Laughton), directed the reading, which was written Anthony Horowitz, known for scripting the Hercule Poirot mysteries for the BBC. The show will be designed by Tony winner Bob Crowley (Racing Demon, Carousel) and choreographed by Quinny Sacks, who just did the RSC Les Enfants du Paradis.
Brian Brolly, the lead producer (and the project's principal calling-card), was CEO of The Really Useful Company during the productive decade of Cats, Song and Dance, Starlight Express and The Phantom of the Opera.
The most conspicuous American aboard is its Broadway-bred songwriter, Glen Roven, who began his Broadway career as a rehearsal pianist for Pippin while still in high school and has received three Emmy awards, including one for the 1986 Tony awards. He conducted the Gala Concert, "An American Reunion," on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for Bill Clinton's inauguration and recently wrote and conducted the all-star tribute on ABC, Sinatra 80 Years: My Way. Brett Levenson starred in the reading as young Bartholomew Collins, a lad who has had a particularly difficult piano lesson the day before he is due to perform in a concert at the Terwilliker Institute. Left alone at home to practice, he hears voices coming from inside the piano, pulling him inside.
Also featured were Jane Krakowski (Grand Hotel, Company) as the boy's single mom, Robert Westenberg (Sunday in the Park with George, I Sent a Letter to My Love) as the wicked Dr. T and Gregory Jbara (Victor/Victoria, Damn Yankees) as the plumber who takes an amorous interest in the mother.
Budgeted at $9-10 million, Dr. Seuss' The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is expected to go into creative preproduction in September and rehearsals in December.
The late Dr. Seuss (real name: Theodore Geisel), whose books sold more than 100 million during his lifetime, wrote a screenplay of this particular story. Stanley Kramer produced it, and Roy Rowland directed it, in 1953--and it became a cult-film classic. Tommy Rettig, who died last month at the age of 54, played the young boy, Hans Conried was the villainous piano teacher, and Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy supplied the romantic interest of the story.