A Class Act, Broadway's boutique musical in a neighborhood of name-brand stores, will end its run at the Ambassador Theatre June 10.
The biographical musical about Broadway songwriter Edward Kleban and his circle of friends began life at Manhattan Theatre Club in fall 2000 and moved to Broadway Feb 14, 2001. The eight-actor show uses trunk songs by the late Kleban (the lyricist for A Chorus Line, but a composer in his own right) to tell his own life story (the book is by his companion, Linda Kline and Price). The score was preserved on a cast album featuring the MTC cast. Counting the Off-Broadway and Broadway runs, the show played 24 weeks. The Broadway staging will have played 30 previews and 105 performances by June 10.
Bell, who co-produced with Chase Mishkin and Arielle Tepper, said he's working on a national tour for the show for summer or fall 2002. Bell said the tour may originate at a nonprofit regional theatre prior to commercial bookings. There is also talk a Japanese staging, in league with associate producer Tokyo Broadcasting System.
Bell said in a 2002-2003 touring season dominated by The Lion King and The Producers, the tiny A Class Act will be a welcome, refreshing presence.
"It was always an odd little piece," Bell said. "Sometimes there's not a place for an odd little piece on Broadway. The bottom line, today, although you go through a lot of struggling to keep it going, I feel like it's been great fun..." A Class Act was nominated for five Tony Awards, including a posthumous Best Score nom for Kleban, and Best Musical, Best Actress (Randy Graff), Best Orchestrations (Larry Hochman) and Best Book (Kline and Price).
The cast includes director and co-author Lonny Price (as cantankerous Kleban), Randy Graff, Donna Bullock, David Hibbard, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Sara Ramirez, Patrick Quinn and Michele Ragusa (who replaced Nancy Anderson June 5).
In recent weeks, the Ambassador Theatre was filled to about 35 percent of paid capacity. During the run of the show, Bell said he was seeking star casting for the show in the hope of boosting box office, but marquee names — such as Jason Alexander — did not materialize. Of his wish to cast "names," Bell used the term "Weissler-ize," referring to Barry and Fran Weissler's knack for plugging TV stars into their shows.
The biographical musical has Kleban yearning to be heard as both a composer and lyricist after he wins fame for lyrics-only for A Chorus Line. He died of cancer in 1987 before his work as a composer could be heard on Broadway. Bell's mission — and that of book writer Linda Kline, who was Kleban's partner — was to get Kleban heard on Broadway, and that goal has now been met, Bell said. The score is made up of trunk songs by Kleban, with the tunes' original contexts altered to tell the story of his life.
Words, music, life, death, sex, love, friends and a passion for theatre were all on display in A Class Act, which opened March 11, after previews.
Kleban's wish in his will (according to the show) was to have his work heard "in a large building in a central part of town in a dark room as part of a play with a lot of people listening, who have all paid a great deal to get in."
That line reverberated touchingly throughout the humane and humorous show, which began previews Feb. 14, St. Valentine's Day — Kleban's favorite holiday. The show is considered a heart-filled valentine to the people who create Broadway musicals.
Kleban got part of his Broadway wish when his lyrics to A Chorus Line were heard at the Shubert Theatre for 15 years or so, but cancer felled him before he could become widely known as a maker of both lyrics and music.
The Broadway cast was slightly different than the Off-Broadway staging, due to personal and professional obligations of the MTC cast. Ray Wills moved onto The Producers (understudying Nathan Lane), Carolee Carmello had a baby and joined Kiss Me, Kate, Julia Murney took other projects (including Time and Again in January) and Jonathan Freeman joined 42nd Street.
Robyn Goodman and Tokyo Broadcasting System/Kumiko Yoshii are associate producers.
Marguerite Derricks is choreographer for Broadway; Scott Wise (Jerome Robbins' Broadway, State Fair, Fosse) created dances for the Off-Broadway version, with some additional work by Derricks (who choreographed Price's aborted pre-Broadway staging of Finian's Rainbow).
Bullock was a late-run Mother in Ragtime, Actors' Equity prexy Quinn has appeared in Beauty and the Beast and many other shows, Ramirez was featured in The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm and The Capeman and Blumenkrantz was Bud Frump in the recent How to Succeed in Business... revival. Blumenkrantz is himself a songwriter, a member of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, a group that is prominently featured in the new musical. Kleban was an early member when Engel was running the nonprofit workshop. Characters in the show are said to be composites of friends, lovers and colleagues in Kleban's life.
The Off-Broadway designers — James Noone (set), Carrie Robbins (costumes), Kevin Adams (lighting) — repeated their duties for the Broadway move, although the scenic elements have been expanded for the larger Ambassador Theatre (MTC's Stage II only held 150). Sound design is by Acme Sound Partners. David Loud is musical director, Larry Hochman is orchestrator, Todd Ellison handles vocal arrangements and dance music; the orchestra has also been expanded since Off-Broadway.
Kleban died of cancer before he matched the success he had contributing lyrics to 1975's A Chorus Line, his best known work. A prominent fund in his name (The Kleban Award, from The Kleban Foundation, Inc.) doles out annual cash prizes to up-and-coming lyricists and book writers.
The score includes up-tempo numbers, ballads, comedy songs and more, the sort of stuff that is regularly discussed still today in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Some of the songs of A Class Act were heard years ago in the Engel class.
The score includes "Light On My Feet," "One More Beautiful Song," "Charm Song," "Paris Through the Window," "Mona," "Gauguin's Shoes," "Follow Your Star," "Better," "Next Best Thing to Love," "Broadway Boogie Woogie," "Say Something Funny," "Self Portrait" and more.
In order to adapt Kleban's songs for a narrative, the creators enlisted Brian Stein and Glenn Slater to write additional lyrics. The show covers territory between 1958 and 1988, starting with the later date (the time of Kleban's memorial) and going backward to his roots as a theatre songwriter.
Broadway have been sighing out loud when snippets of Kleban's lyrics to A Chorus Line ("What I Did For Love," for example) are heard in the show, as if to say, "Oh, that's what he wrote!" A dollop of Marvin Hamlisch's music from that smash show is included in A Class Act. (Detractors have said they wanted Kleban's work to be as memorable as the Kleban-Hamlisch work.)
Co-librettist Kline has written for television, and she also co wrote the libretto for Theaterworks USA's The Secret Garden. Director, actor and co-librettist Price is artistic director of Musical Theatre Works, which helped develop A Class Act. His directing credits include Pal Joey (City Center), The Rothschilds, Juno and Sally Marr...and her escorts. As an actor, he has appeared in Master Harold...and the Boys, Merrily We Roll Along, Burn This, The Immigrant and Falsettoland.
A Class Act is the third show in a year that started at MTC before transferring to Broadway: David Auburn's Proof and Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife began in 1999-2000 and made the move to Broadway in fall 2000. Both have recouped their investment.