It's official. George Gershwin Alone, Hershey Felder's hit one-man show about the legendary composer, will begin previews at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre on April 17. No opening date has been set. The booking marks the end of a horse race between Gershwin Alone and the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Alan Ayckbourn musical comedy By Jeeves. In recent weeks, the smallish By Jeeves has tried mightily to secure the jewel-box-like Hayes.
Gershwin Alone was extended several times in Los Angeles, finishing on Dec. 17 a six-month run at the Tiffany Theatre. From there, it traveled to Florida, where it played a four-week stand, Jan. 3-28, 2001, at the Cuillo Center in West Palm Beach. It then ran Feb. 2-4 at the Coral Gables City Center.
Felder told Playbill On-Line in September 2000 that the show would proceed to New York, possibly aiming for the Helen Hayes Theatre. "I've got my eye on the Helen Hayes as do the producers," said Felder, "but it all depends on what happens with Dirty Blonde." The latter Claudia Shear play recently announced a closing date of March 4.
Martin Markinson, the owner of the Hayes, is co-producer of George Gershwin Alone, along with Richard Willis.
* Gershwin opened back on June 2, and sold a half-million dollars in tickets, becoming that rare thing: a Los Angeles commercial theatre hit. The show is directed by Joel Zwick. Felder is the playwright and performer. After doing five years of research on Gershwin, he got the rights from the late composer's estate to develop a solo show. A workshop was held in March, at which the Gershwin heirs were present and gave the actor the go-ahead to perform. Felder, 32, is the first person since George Gershwin's death in 1937 to be allowed to play the composer in a major stage production.
In the show, Felder sits at a piano, playing several Gershwin songs, including parts of "Rhapsody in Blue," "An American in Paris" and "Porgy and Bess." In between numbers, he talks about his childhood, his parents and his siblings Ira, Arthur and Frances. He also discussed where and when songs were composed and offers a peek into how a composer and lyricist work together. "It's a story of an artist," said Felder. "It's very difficult and very demanding. You have to focus all your attention on the role. I keep thinking its going to get easier but it doesn't."
The clock is ticking on the spring Broadway prospects of By Jeeves, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Alan Ayckbourn musical comedy now enjoying a sold-out run at Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Goodspeed Musicals artistic producer Michael P. Price, who is ready to move the production to Broadway, partnering with Pittsburgh Public, told Playbill On-Line Feb. 14 that the Helen Hayes Theatre was the "preferred" spot, but owner Martin Markinson had not made it available. The search for a venue continues.
Sources have confirmed that Lloyd Webber himself contacted Felder in an attempt to secure the Hayes for a spring move, but the unknown Felder, playing David to Lloyd Webber's Goliath, would not budge from the Broadway prospect. Playbill On-Line confirmed a report in The New York Post that Lloyd Webber offered Felder a run in London in lieu of a Hayes occupancy.
Price said the urgency to get a Broadway space for By Jeeves is not so much about the Tony Award nomination deadline, May 2, but to keep the current cast together. John Scherer and Donna Lynne Champlin are poised to re-join the musical, 3hree, which has a Los Angeles staging in spring. Without some kind of commitment for a theatre and a Broadway contract, the By Jeeves actors (including crucial Scherer, who plays lead Bertie Wooster) must move on to other projects.
The show's designers and director Ayckbourn also have other commitments. Price said he would not rule out opening after May 2 — robbing the production of the important Tony marketing tool, but keeping the integrity of the staging — but said the deal would have to come through in the next week. There are currently no open theatres.
"It's all about real estate," Prince told Playbill On-Line. "We wanna be in New York, period," Price said. "We would have preferred the Hayes because it fits the show very nicely."
Price admitted that the window for By Jeeves may be closed by the end of last week (Feb. 18).
By Jeeves continues to March 4 at Pittsburgh Public Theater.