Zany" may be one of the more overused words in the critics' lexicon, but sometimes the word truly applies. Rarely does it fit more aptly than when describing Noises Off, Michael Frayn's 1982 farce of life backstage for a second-rate theatre company stuck in a third-rate play.
The comedy shows what goes wrong not only onstage (as the company performs a dumb comedy titled, "Nothing On") and behind the scenes.
Alley artistic director Gregory Boyd directs the English comedy, which began previews May 15 for an opening May 20 and a run through June 14.
Other works by Frayn include The Sandboy, Donkey's Years and 1984's Benefactors.
The Alley is also readying the Southwest premiere of Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive May 22-June 14, with an opening May 27. Vogel's Pulitzer-winning drama of a young girl's unhealthy relationship with her charming but alcoholic uncle also won the 1997 Lucille Lortel and NY Drama Critics Circle Awards for best play. Other Vogel plays include The Baltimore Waltz (staged by Alley in 1992), Hot N' Throbbin' and Desdemona. *
In other Alley news, Frank Wildhorn may have two musicals -- The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway - but they aren't the only items on the composer's plate. Wildhorn -- much as Tim Rice and Alan Menken did on King David -- is developing an oratorio, alongside lyricist Jack Murphy.
Titled The Civil War: An American Musical, the piece will draw its material from original civil war documents, Walt Whitman poetry and other correspondence of the time.
According to Gary Gunas (of PACE Theatricals), a "star-studded" concept CD is expected for Sept. 1998 (pushed up from the summer), followed by a televised concert special. Houston, TX's Alley Theatre will premiere the piece: Sept. 18, with Broadway eyed for 1999-00. The show, to be directed by librettist Gregory Boyd, is expected to tour a year before coming to Broadway.
According to Martha Ashton of Wildhorn Productions, there will be two CDs of Civil War. One will be a full-score double disk; the other will concentrate on "radio friendly mixes." Scheduled to sing are Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Deana Carter, Hootie & The Blowfish, Carl Anderson, Tracy Lawrence, Kenny Rogers, John Berry, Linda Eder (Jekyll & Hyde), Betty Buckley, Dr. John, Patti LaBelle, Bebe Winans, The Sounds Of Blackness, LeAnne Rimes, Bryan White, Carl Anderson, Michel Bell (Show Boat) and The Broadway All-Star Chorus." Ashton says a half-dozen major "pop stars" are also expected to sign on to the project "in the weeks to follow."
Reached Oct. 22, 1997 Wildhorn acknowledged that The Civil War CD turned into a major drawing card for pop singers. Wildhorn calls it, "the largest American theatre album ever made: 28-30 major acts. Such a sweep of wonderful artists, I'm in heaven!" said Wildhorn. "[Civil War] combines what I love the most: theatre and the best pop singers in the world today making a record. It brings the record-making and theatre worlds together. This is an enormous commitment from Atlantic Records to a theatre piece. Not just RCA Victor or Sony Classics -- this is Atlantic Records, home of Led Zep. In August, Pierre Cossette will televise a 2 hour special of the album. And (as of last report) Sept. 18, the full-year national tour starts at the Alley Theatre in Houston.
Wildhorn expects fall 1999 to bring Civil War to New York, "either to a Broadway house or the Paramount. And we'll go from there. This thing will have a very different kind of life from a Broadway show. It's not an oratorio, nor a play with music, nor a concert -- but it has elements of all those things. It's a huge emotional tapestry, the people of the times and the loss that defined those times. It consists of letters and diary entries and speeches -- that's the thread of the piece. Even Jack Murphy's song lyrics are based on poetry and speeches. The piece goes from Secession to the dawn of Gettysburg. (There was too much stuff to go to the entire inaugural.) And if it all works, maybe a year from now, we'll do the next part." Wildhorn said he has "a lot of ideas" about casting but won't be making any decisions until after Christmastime.
Winner of the 1996 Tony for outstanding regional theatre (as recommended by the American Theatre Critics Association), the Alley Theatre has produced such works as 1990's Jekyll & Hyde (which later toured and now runs on Broadway), and Robert Wilson's Hamlet, A Monologue.
-- By David Lefkowitz