Few regional theatre openings this season have had the buzz that’s hovering over The Spitfire Grill, a new musical ending its premiere at New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse, Dec. 23. Those involved are hesitant to talk about post-regional plans for the musical, but it’s an open secret the theatre is excited about the show and that New York producers have been watching it closely.
Regarding commercial producers eyeing Spitfire Grill, a George Street spokesperson told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 19), "Several people have been in to see it, and there's lots of interest, but nothing is set in stone, and there are no definite plans at this point." Performances of the tuner began Nov. 25 with an opening Nov. 29. Tickets are still available for performances through closing. (Note: A few weeks ago, the closing date was changed from Dec. 24 to Dec. 23, "so the cast wouldn't have a closing night on Christmas Eve," a spokesperson told PBOL.)
Artistic director David Saint (Down the Garden Paths) directs The Spitfire Grill. The title is the name of a restaurant, where the no-nonsense owner, Hannah, and a former women's prison inmate, Percy (Garrett Long), trying to start over develop a friendship — and a contest. Grill is a collaboration by Fred Alley and James Valcq, with Valcq doing the music, Alley penning the lyrics, and the duo adapting the book.
Valcq is best known for writing the book and score for Off-Broadway's Zombies From the Beyond. Alley collaborated with James Kaplan on the Weavers-based revue, Goodnight Irene!, as well as on the regionally-popular Lumberjacks in Love. Luis Perez is the choreographer.
Beauty and the Beast’s Beth Fowler, a Tony nominee for the Sweeney Todd revival a few years ago, stars as the cafe owner, opposite newcomer Garrett Long. Also in the cast are Janet Metz (Marie Christine, Once Upon a Mattress, Harmony in L.A.) and Susan Mansur (Damn Yankees, OB’s Ruthless!). Even better known are the show’s designers: Michael Anania (sets), The Best Man’s Theoni V. Aldredge (costumes) and Howell Binkley (lighting). According to George Street spokesperson Kelly Ryman, songs in the musical, which was workshopped there in the summer, include “The Colors of Paradise,” “Shine” and the folky ballad, “Wild Bird.”
For ticket information on The Spitfire Grill the George Street Theatre, 9 Livingston Ave. in New Brunswick, call (732) 246-7717.
In other George Street news, Chita Rivera is a very busy stage veteran, and the Garden State is all the richer for it. Following her recent star turn in the Paper Mill Playhouse's mounting of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, she will appear in Venecia, a new play adapted and directed by Arthur Laurents at George Street.
Argentine playwright Jorge Accame's gentle comedy with music, which receives its U.S. premiere at George Street, is about the women of a broken-down brothel who all hope for a better life. They get together to help send the oldest, La Vieja (Rivera), to her dream destination: lovely and haunting Venice.
Rivera has appeared in the original productions of such landmark musicals as West Side Story, Bye, Bye Birdie, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Venecia is scheduled for Feb. 10-March 11, 2001. Andrew Lippa (MTC's The Wild Party) will score this Argentine flavored piece.
In conjunction with, but prior to, the play, author Laurents will do a one night-only celebration of his musicals, with KT Sullivan (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and Lee Roy Reams (An Evening With Jerry Herman) singing. Lee Davis will host the Jan. 29, 2001 evening and moderate a conversation with Laurents about his most famous shows (Do I Hear A Waltz?, La Cage aux Folles, Gypsy, West Side Story). For tickets ($30-$45 show only; $150 show and pre-show dinner) and information on this George Street benefit evening, call (732) 246-7717.
Here's the remaining George Street season line-up (as of Dec. 18):
• Human Events (Jan. 6-Feb. 4, 2001, opening Jan. 10). The latest by the prolific A.R. Gurney is set in a small New England college, where an enthusiastic British teacher (Patrick Fitzgerald) tries to revitalize the humanities department. Instead, this racing demon nearly spins it into butter. Artistic director Saint helms this new comedy by the author of The Dining Room, Far East and Sylvia.
Starring in Human Events are Jack Gilpin, Anne DeSalvo, Fitzgerald, Timothy Jerome, Kathleen McNenny. Dan Domingues and Florence Klutch. Designing the show are Jim Youmans (set), Ken Posner (lighting), David Murin (costumes), and Chris Bailey (sound).
• Harold Pinter's Old Times (March 17-April 15, 2001). Ethan McSweeny, who directed Broadway's revival of The Best Man, will stage Pinter's play. Lisa Harrow, an RSC veteran who starred in Wit Off Broadway and in Pittsburgh, will play Anna. Young director Sweeney, a former associate director at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC and who helmed Master Class last season at George Street, has just been named the company's associate artistic director, starting this season.
• Claudio Lazlo, (April 21-May 20, 2001). Cigdem Onat, who was featured in the Lincoln Center revival of Arthur Laurents' Time of the Cuckoo last season, will star in his brand new play, to be directed by artistic director Saint. Here, she plays a "domineering, passionate actress" whose tumultuous behavior nearly sabotages her most important role.
As for the George Street second stage season, look for an expansion of last year's "Diva Project" to arrive May 9-19, 2001. This year, eight performers - women and men - will offer solo works in "The Diva and Gentle Men Festival," which artistic associate and director of education and outreach Ted Sod is curating.
Plans for the 2001-02 season are also in the nascent stage. Waiting for Tadashi, a play by Velina Hasu Houston that was going to be done this-coming season, will instead arrive a year later. Artistic director Saint is still tentatively slated to direct. Houston had a hit in Los Angeles with her play, Tea. The Kennedy Center honored her for her pieces Asa Ga Kimashita (Morning Has Broken) and The Matsuyama Mirror. Other credits include Kokoro (True Heart), American Dreams, Cultural Lives and Hula Heart. Her Ikebana (Living Flowers) will be produced this fall at CA's Pasadena Playhouse.
Also on tap is the culmination of the Bridge Project, being produced with the Crossroads Theatre (an African-American company next door to George Street) to and L.A.'s Cornerstone Theatre Company. The latter goes into neighborhoods and works with non-performers to create a play that addresses issues affecting the community. We just finished the first year. "It's a huge undertaking," spokesperson Shanks told Playbill On-Line, "involving hundreds, even thousands of people... Their last pieces included The Good Person of New Haven and The Steel Project. The new piece is about New Brunswick, which has strong African-American, Latino, Jewish and Hungarian communities, as well as Rutgers college students and people who've lived here for decades. It's a fascinating process. The working title is `New Brunswick Stories,' and professional playwrights were recently hired to help develop the piece, which we'll produce in 2001-02, possibly as the season opener."
Finally, the George Street Playhouse isn't kidding about its commitment to developing and producing new plays. The company recently named George Ryan as artistic associate to help manage the literary department, and the theatre's newly-announced 2000-01 season line-up features three world premieres. In announcing the new slate, artistic director David Saint noted that his past two seasons included premieres by Anne Meara (Down the Garden Paths), Allan Knee (Syncopation) and the aforementioned Arthur Laurents (Jolson Sings Again). Meara's play is currently running Off Broadway.
- By David Lefkowitz
and Robert Simonson