Anna ("Annie") Edson Taylor, Cummings told Playbill.com, was the first person to survive a spill over the falls in a barrel, in 1901. Mary Testa — seen in Transport Group's production of La Chiusa's First Lady Suite in 2004, and his See What I Wanna See at The Public Theater — will play Taylor, who celebrated her 63rd birthday when she performed the perilous stunt.
The musical spans the time period right before her trip over the falls through her death in 1921. Musical flavor of the period infuses the score, Cummings told Playbill.com.
Queen of the Mist has book, music and lyrics by Tony Award nominee LaChiusa (Marie Christine, The Wild Party, Hello Again). Queen of the Mist was commissioned by Transport Group Theatre Company, with support from the Shen Family Foundation.
Billed as a private "developmental lab," the fall process is made possible through a special grant from The National Endowment for the Arts.
The musical director is David Evans, who music-directed Marie Christine and Hello Again at Lincoln Center. The choreographer is Scott Rink. Testa is a two-time Tony Award nominee for On the Town and 42nd Street, and a Drama Desk nominee for TG's First Lady Suite.
Also in the developmental cast of seven are Jonathan Hammond (Obie winner for TG's The Boys in the Band, Broadway's Ragtime), Donna Lynne Champlin (Obie winner for TG's The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Broadway's Sweeney Todd, Hollywood Arms) and Stanley Bahorek (TG's See Rock City & Other Destinations, Broadway's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee). Further casting of the remaining three roles will be announced shortly.
LaChiusa and Transport Group have previously collaborated on productions of Requiem for William, The Audience and First Lady Suite.
Cummings told Playbill.com that he learned about Taylor when he read the book "Queen of the Mist: The Forgotten Heroine of Niagara" by Joan Murray. Around the same time, Cummings was working for the first time with LaChiusa and Testa on the TG revival of First Lady Suite. He saw in the writer and actress a potential artistic match for a show about Taylor.
"She's one of his great interpreters," Cummings said of Testa and LaChiusa. "I think she really, really gets him. When I was reading about who this woman was, it struck me that it would be a topic he would really be interested in — and that it would be a perfect part for her."
Cummings sent them each a copy of the book. They were interested right away, Cummings said, adding that the new show is not based on the Joan Murray book. "Queen of the Mist" is the title that Taylor — who would live another 20 years after the stunt — gave herself.