The musical by Douglas Carter Beane and composer-lyricist Douglas J. Cohen was embraced by audiences and critics in its premiere in the New York Musical Theatre Festival Sept. 16-29. That modest test run, with stars such as Debbie Gravitte, Jackie Hoffman and Patrick Quinn, played the 88-seat Lion Theatre Off-Broadway.
Regional artistic directors and commercial producers were present, and good word of mouth and positive reviews helped fuel interest in a show that has been developing for several years. Christopher Ashley (All Shook Up) directed.
Drama Dept. executive director Michael S. Rosenberg told Playbill.com Oct. 10 that the NYMF run was encouraging, and prompted the company to continue to aim high.
Broadway is the hope, he said. The show, with a cast of nine and band of five, plus understudies, is better suited to the economics of Broadway than Off-Broadway, he explained.
The creative team identified work they would like to do on the show's second act (they already gave Debbie Gravitte's character a new number). They want further work to be done in the relative privacy of a city far from New York, perhaps at a not-for-profit resident theatre. "The reason we did NYMF was to ask, 'Does the subject matter work? Do people find it funny?'" Rosenberg said. "It was great to see that [they] liked where it is at this point."
But now, Drama Dept. would like to see how a large, traditional audience might digest the show, which concerns nightclub entertainers with the surname of Stevenitti on a cruise ship highjacked by terrorists. The scenic elements, movement and musical sound of the show would be expanded from its tiny debut in NYMF, where it quickly sold out.
The hope is to get on a theatre's schedule sooner rather than later to build on the momentum of the NYMF run, and because "none of us is getting any younger," Rosenberg quipped.
"We need a fully realized, fully staged, full-out production in front of an audience," he said.
The NYMF run, produced by Drama Dept. and Keith Degi and Michael S. Rosenberg, was billed this way: "When a United Nations peacekeeping ship is taken over by terrorists from the Dreggish Republic it comes down to the most unlikely duo to save the day — the cruise ship entertainers. Husband and wife lounge singers from Atlantic City lead a ragtag group to defeat the bad guys and change the world for the better. This original musical comedy is one part Anything Goes, one part 'Under Siege,' a little Ealing comedy and a whole lot of heart."
The cast included Bradley Dean (Man of La Mancha, Jane Eyre) as Big Apple, Debbie Gravitte (Jerome Robbins' Broadway) as Donna, Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray) as Grusha, Michael McCormick (Kiss of the Spider Woman) as Leader Residu, Joanna Glushak as Penelope, Patrick Quinn (A Class Act, The Sound of Music) as Briggs Hopkins, Raymond Bokhour as Mimke, Sal Viviano (The Full Monty) as Tony Stevenitti, and David Beach (Mamma Mia!, Urinetown) as Pavlov.
Douglas Carter Beane, artistic director of Off-Broadway's Drama Dept. is known for his plays As Bees In Honey Drown (Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award, Drama Desk Best Play Nomination); The Country Club (L.A. Times Critics' Choice & Dramalogue Awards); Music From a Sparkling Planet; Mondo Drama; Advice From a Caterpillar (Outer Critics Circle Award Nomination); White Lies; Devil May Care and Old Money. His screenplays include "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar" and "Advice From a Caterpillar" (Best Film, Aspen Comedy Festival, Best Feature, Toyota Comedy Festival).
Composer-lyricist Douglas J. Cohen's works include The Opposite of Sex, No Way to Treat a Lady, The Gig, Children's Letters to God, Barnstormer, Glimmerglass and Boozy.
For more information, visit www.nymf.org or www.dramadept.org.