Eric D. Schaeffer, the artistic director of Arlington, VA's Signature Theatre and a musical director of growing reputation, is piloting a reading of John Kander and Fred Ebb's new musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. The invitation-only reading takes place sometime this month at an undisclosed New York location.
Schaeffer told Playbill On-Line that the cast of the reading will include Debra Monk (Steel Pier) and David Garrison (Titanic) in the lead roles of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, with Michele Pawk (Triumph of Love) as their conniving maid, the temptress Sabina. Carol Woods will play the fortune teller.
Schaeffer said this was the first reading of Skin in which he'd been involved, and that he had been working with the composers for some time. The score, he said, is big, totaling some 15 or 16 songs. "I think it's one of their best scores ever," Schaeffer said. He added that they hope to get to get a look at what they have, but there are no firm plays for the project beyond that at this time.
Schaefer directed a critically-praised reinterpretation of Sondheim & Lapine's Passion in 1996, which put him on the map nationally. For NY City's Center's "Encores!" series, he directed the 1997 production of Sweet Adeline.
The Skin of Our Teeth cast is not unversed in Kander and Ebb's work. Monk starred in Kander and Ebb's most recent Broadway outing, 1997's Steel Pier, while Pawk is currently starring in the hit Broadway revival of Cabaret. In the non-Kander & Ebb Titanic, Garrison played White Star Line owner J. Bruce Ismay. Other major theatre roles include Off-Broadway's I Do! I Do!, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and the Chicago production of Randy Newman's Faust, in which Garrison played Satan. The songwriting team told Playbill On-Line in January that they had moved The Skin of Our Teeth to the top of their agenda. Speaking just hours after his Chicago revival CD was nominated for a Grammy Award, composer John Kander said he and lyricist Fred Ebb are "working away on a revision" of their Skin of Our Teeth musical, which had a New York workshop production with Monk, James Naughton and Bernadette Peters in summer 1996. "It's very much on the front burner," he said.
Among Kander & Ebb's other musicals are Cabaret, Steel Pier, The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Zorba, Woman of the Year, The Rink and And The World Goes 'Round.
When Steel Pier was in spring 1997 rehearsals, Ebb told Playbill On-Line that he'd begun Skin of Our Teeth before Steel Pier, but because of the unique nature of the show's structure, they needed a director with a unique vision to carry it off.
The Skin of Our Teeth is one of the more unorthodox plays to have won the Pulitzer Prize (1943). A wide-ranging, sometimes surreal allegory about the human spirit and survival ("by the skin of our teeth"), it tells the story of the Antrobus family of New Jersey, and how they withstand ice ages, hurricanes, temptations of the flesh and other apocalyptic travails.
As chance would have it, the New York Shakespeare Festival is presenting a revival of the original non-musical play The Skin of Our Teeth in Central Park this summer, running June 12-July 12. John Goodman ("Roseanne") and Frances Conroy (The Rehearsal) will star as Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus and Kristen Johnson of TV's "Third Rock From the Sun" will be Sabina. Irene Lewis, artistic director of Baltimore MD's Center Stage, will direct the piece.