Easter Sunday may have come and gone but not Irving Berlin's Easter Parade, which just began a five-week workshop in a Greenwich Village, NYC rehearsal studio, May 11. Reached by phone, librettist and director Philip Oesterman told Playbill On-Line the show was still targeting early spring 1999 (around Easter-time) for its Broadway debut, though tour dates would "definitely" be added before then.
Easter Parade workshopped its first act, for friends and producers, at Houston, TX's Theatre Under the Stars a year ago. Then star and co- director Tommy Tune brought the show to Australia (Nov.-Dec. 1997). "It was a huge disappointment," Oesterman admitted to Playbill On-Line's Texas correspondent Peter Szatmary. The musical was never given a major production Down Under, Oesterman said, partly because no theatres were available in the city of choice, Sydney.
The current NY workshop, running through mid-June, will concentrate on the show's second act. "Tommy and I have been working and learning from our experience in Australia," Oesterman told Playbill On-Line (May 11). "I added a new character who wasn't in the movie, Maxine Moonlight, and she's played by KT Sullivan." Sullivan, a noted cabaret singer, starred in the Goodspeed Opera's Broadway revival of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Rhonda Burchmore has been mentioned for a supporting role.
Back in April, Oesterman went into more detail about Easter Parade. "It's still the same sweet romance, but the tone is different, broader, more contemporary. We're focusing more on the relationship of the lead characters, as performers and as lovers. The Peter Lawford character has been taken out, for instance." Just about all of Irving Berlin's songs, however, remain.
In addition to writing the book, Oesterman is co-directing Easter Parade with Tune, who's starring in the Fred Astaire role alongside Sandy Duncan in the Judy Garland part. Oesterman is a longtime Tune work partner, having teamed with the multiple Tony Award-winner on more than 20 productions, including My One and Only, Grand Hotel, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and The Will Rogers Follies! Tad Tadlock co-choreographs Easter Parade alongside Tune. Songs in IBEP include the title tune, "Shakin' The Blues Away," and "We're a Couple of Swells." Reached June 27, 1997, Oesterman confirmed the NY Daily News report that the workshop staging had used a series of frames as its motif. The show still uses some of that concept, but it's not the main visual idea.
Easter Parade for the stage began with a nod from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which controls the Irving Berlin catalogue, Oesterman said. The producers approached Tune, asking to work with him on whatever he wanted from Berlin's oeuvre. Looking for a vehicle to replace the ill-fated Buskers (to which Oesterman contributed in later phases), Tune chose Easter Parade.
Other writers were initially involved in creating the Easter Parade book, but Oesterman said he was so displeased with the results he took over the task himself. When he finished the first draft, he called Tune up, told him to come over and read it right then. It's been through many rewrites since.
New backers have been found, Oesterman said, and Easter Parade tentatively will begin out-of-town tryouts in November 1998 at The 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company in Seattle, the sister company of Theatre Under The Stars. "We wanted to premiere in Houston, since Tommy and I are native sons, and Frank [Young, president and CEO of Theatre Under The Stars] said he could find us a venue up until Aug. 31. But we couldn't guarantee that we'd be ready by then, not with the script and especially not with the sets that will have to be built after the script is set." At the very least, Oesterman had hoped for the premiere to occur somewhere in Texas because all the major players in front of and behind the stage are form the Lone Star State.
According to Leonard Maltin's TV Movies & Video Guide, the story of the 1948 film of Easter Parade has to do with a "Star-Is-Born-style musical triangle, with the Astaire character, Don Hughes, latching onto Garland (Hannah Brown) while forgetting his first dance partner, Ann Miller (as Nadine Kincaid)." Tune will play the Astaire part; Duncan the Garland part. Duncan danced on Broadway in Tune's My One and Only (she replaced Twiggy).
The delays on Easter Parade have also affected another Oesterman project, Take This Show and Shove It, a campy country-western revue-cum-musical about a family of eccentric crooners: a red-hot momma, her two hot-and-sassy daughters, and her outrageous drag queen son. Oesterman co-wrote, co-directed, and co-choreographed Take This Show and Shove It, which uses as its score country-western standards by the likes of Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Clint Black, and even Cole Porter ("Don't Fence Me In").
A self-described work-in-progress that still was finding plotlines and shaping characters, it abruptly closed two weeks into an open-ended run at The Great Caruso, a Houston supper club. It was to have been remounted this July at Cinegrill, in Los Angeles, a cabaret theatre in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, but now it looks like the piece will have to wait until Easter Parade is up and running.