Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves: Under the Bridge, a New Musical Written by Kathie Lee Gifford, Opens Jan. 6 in NYC

News   Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves: Under the Bridge, a New Musical Written by Kathie Lee Gifford, Opens Jan. 6 in NYC You will meet with adventure tonight. That's what a Parisian gypsy named Mireli promises a crusty but lovable hobo, Armand, in the new Off-Broadway musical, Under the Bridge, opening Jan. 6 at the Zipper Theatre.
Ed Dixon in Under the Bridge
Ed Dixon in Under the Bridge Photo by Joan Marcus

Turns out, the "adventure" involves a suddenly homeless mother and her three kids, who invade Armand's al fresco home under a bridge on the River Seine. Musicals being optimistic in nature, Armand is likely to take the family under his wing, as songs about hope, Christmas, past love and growing up are sung.

Previews for the world premiere production began Dec. 1, 2004. The high-profile author of the show is actress and former talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford (book, lyrics). David Pomeranz, known for pop hits sung by Barry Manilow and others, is the show's composer.

For the staging, director Eric Schaeffer (who was Gifford's director when she stepped into Broadway's Putting It Together) has assembled a Broadway-level cast that is certain to be noticed by critics: Ed Dixon stars as Armand, Jacquelyn Piro as the mother, Florence Lacey as Mireli, with Dan Cooney, Alexa Ehrlich, Thursday Farrar, Eleasha Gamble, Tamra Hayden, C. Mingo Long, Greg Stone, Bethany Tesarck, Maggie Watts and Andrew Blake Zutty.

This is the first musical theatre writing project for the actress, singer and TV personality Gifford, who told Playbill On-Line that beyond the 12-week Off-Broadway engagement, she hopes the show finds a wider audience, perhaps on Broadway.

The creative team includes James Kronzer (scenic design), Anne Kennedy (costume design), Chris Lee (lighting design) and Kai Harada (sound designs). Orchestrations are by Brian Besterman. Paul Raiman is musical director. "I'm sure we'll be doing all kinds of freshening and touch ups as we go along," Gifford told Playbill prior to the start of previews. "This is a new experience for me. So far it hasn't been the mind-boggling experience I thought it was going to be. The book that I adapted this story from, 'The Family Under the Bridge,' was such a well crafted little gem that the characters were quite defined. They were a joy. We're telling the story of what happens over 10 days in Paris in 1953."

With Pomeranz, Gifford also wrote additional music for the show, which is produced by her Lambchop Productions.

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The book by the late Natalie Savage Carlson won the Newbery Honor and has been a favorite children's story since it first appeared in the 1950s (HarperCollins published it in 1958).

"I'd never heard of it, or its author," Gifford admitted. "Three years ago my daughter was learning how to read and every night for homework she had to do a half an hour of reading. We were encouraged to read with her. It was something we both enjoyed very much because my daughter has a flair for the dramatic — I don't know where she got it from. We tend to really enjoy that time. We ran out of books and she went to her bookcase and said, 'What about this one, mom?' ...We started reading it. It took us about two days and we loved it so much we read it again, and then we went on to other books. I just couldn't get this one off my heart."

Pop and theatre composer David Pomeranz is known for such songs as "Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again" and "The Old Songs."

The Zipper, at 336 W. 37th Street, is the funky, adaptable venue that uses automobile seats — some with seat belts still attached — in its auditorium.

Les Misérables veteran Ed Dixon is the barrel chested character actor praised for his presence and his potent baritone in the Kurt Weill entertainment Here Lies Jenny at the Zipper. He's also a respected writer whose own musical, Fanny Hill, is aiming for a 2005 run Off-Broadway.

Kathie Lee Gifford is the widely-known actress and talk show host ("Live With Regis & Kathie Lee") who appeared in Broadway's Putting It Together. With Pomeranz and songwriter David Friedman, she has also written the developing musical, Hurricane Aimee, about the controversial evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Schaeffer has directed developmental readings of the piece and a full staging is expected in 2005.

The performance schedule for Under the Bridge is Tuesday-Friday at 7 PM, Saturday at 2 PM and 7 PM, and Sunday at 1 and 6 PM.

The final scheduled performance is Feb. 20, 2005.

Tickets are $55. Call Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or visit the Zipper Theatre box office, 336 W. 37th Street.

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A concept album of Under the Bridge has been recorded and is on sale at Gifford's website (www.kathieleegifford.com) and in the Zipper Theatre lobby. Proceeds benefit the Association to Benefit Children (www.a-b-c.org).

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Did Gifford reinvent the plot of the book, or was it all laid out in print?

"I had to reinvent enormous parts of it," she said. "To transfer a classic little children's tale to a full, fleshed out musical, it needed to be heightened, needed depth, lots of back story. We're approaching this in a very Dickens fashion. He often wrote on the theme of children in peril, and what the love of a child could do to a hardened human heart. Universal theme, brand new story."

Talking to the author's granddaughter, Gifford learned the genesis of the story. "Natalie and her husband and another couple were all dressed up in their finery going to a Christmas party one day, driving along the Seine River in Paris, when they saw a commotion on the side of the river," Gifford said. "Being a writer and an interested person, she said, 'Stop the car, I want to see what the hubbub's about.' She got out of the car with her friend, in their high heels, and climbed down the ravine, and right there were hobos and gypsies having a Christmas feast. She was so moved by it that they lost themselves watching the goings-on: the merriment and their meager little dinner. This heavy-set very crotchety old hobo started chasing them up the ravine. She based the story right after that on this hobo, whom she named Armand."