Hard to imagine that Raul Esparza could get any busier than he's been the past few months, what with jumping from the goofy guignol of Rocky Horror to the urban angst of tick, tick...Boom!, but he's having a wild autumn. On Oct. 26, the actor took over the Emcee role in Cabaret, and he's also been picked to play Bud, the John Travolta role, in a workshop of the Broadway-bound tuner Urban Cowboy.
The workshop was scheduled to be held Oct. 22-Nov. 11 at NYC's Westbeth Center, but director and co-author Philip Oesterman required emergency open-heart surgery, Oct. 12, sending him to the hospital for a week and delaying the workshop, which will now take place Dec. 6-7 at Westbeth. The show is still eyeing a March 2002 Broadway berth, with producers Leonard Soloway and Chase Mishkin apparently hoping to start rehearsals on or around Feb. 15, 2002. A Broadway opening date has yet to be set.
The workshop also features Sandy Duncan (Peter Pan), newly added to play Aunt Corene opposite Reathel Bean's Uncle Bob. Newcomer Caroline McMahon is Sissy (the Debra Winger part), alongside Tom Zemon as the villainous Wes (the Scott Glenn part) and Smokey Joe's Cafe alum B.J. Crosby as Jesse. The latter, owner of the honky-tonk club Gillies, is a new character created expressly for the musical, according to director and co-author Philip Oesterman. Asked if the show's plans had been affected by the World Trade Center disaster, Oesterman said in October, "Everything is on schedule. We weren't really affected other than in our hearts and souls. Schedulewise, everything's in place, and we're just moving ahead."
Choreographing Urban Cowboy are Melinda Roy (former principal dancer with NYC Ballet) and Robert Royston.
Douglas W. Schmidt (42nd Street) is doing the set for Urban Cowboy, with David F. Segal on lighting and Urinetown's Gregory Gale on costumes. Louis St. Louis (Smokey Joe's Cafe), who wrote five songs for filmdom's "Grease 2," serves as musical director. Back in December 1998, before he became Broadway's Tony Manero, James Carpinello participated in a reading of a new musical based on the hit film "Urban Cowboy." Little was heard publicly about the project since until Oesterman and librettist Aaron Latham (who wrote the screenplay) returned from a summer trip to Tennessee visiting the Nashville Songwriters Association, hoping to find original songs to plug into the show.
"We met with, literally, the top country writers in Nashville," Oesterman told Playbill On-Line. "We came away with more demos and CDs than we could bring; we had to mail them home. And some of the people we met are definitely writing songs for the show." That said, at this point the only tunes Oesterman would confirm would be in Urban Cowboy are the movie's "Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life?" and Johnny Lee's "Looking for Love."
Urban Cowboy had a reading at Lincoln Center in early 2000, with Footloose's Jeremy Kushnier playing Bud and Natasha Diaz playing Sissy. That summer, another workshop was held in Gloucester, MA, with David Elder (42nd Street's Billy Lawler) as Bud and Angela Pupelo as Sissy.
The target for Urban Cowboy remains Broadway this coming March, though that sounds extremely quick for a show that has yet to try out or integrate new songs into its book. Asked about the quick turn around, director Oesterman said, "Why not? We really feel it's in pretty good shape." He reiterated Nov. 8 the show's plans to move ahead quickly, adding, "It's been very weird and surreal. I went to the doctor and the next day he had my heart in his hand. I was in the hospital five days, but I'm back and feeling great."
James Bridges' 1980 film starred John Travolta as a construction worker whose machismo doesn't quite jibe with real life. He also winds up in a love triangle (with the other points played by Debra Winger and Scott Glenn). The movie's best-known aspect is the mechanical bull customers ride at the pub Gilley's, a machine that sparked something of a craze for the nuts n' bolts bronco in bars across America.