JFK - A Musical Drama, a show about the life of the late President, trying out in Dublin before a hoped-for Broadway engagement, will close early, May 3, due to poor reviews and audience reception.
Workshopped as Jack at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT, in 1994, then world-premiered at the University of Oklahoma in 1995 -- in a full production starring John Cullum as Joseph Kennedy (JFK's dad) -- JFK was scheduled to run at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, April 22 through June 15, but the proposed eight-week tryout will end May 3, after a 10-day run.
Producer Stewart F. Lane told the press that poor reviews were responsible for the show's unfortunate fate. "Naturally I am very disappointed at the response from the critics. We had a wonderful international cast and very high production values, of which we are very proud. Dublin is a terrific town; I look forward to bringing my next show here."
A Playbill On-Line reader who attended the first preview said the musical was greeted with polite applause - unusual for Dublin, "where most musicals get standing ovations." Production spokesperson Kevin Rehac, of the Keith Sherman office, confirmed the Saturday closure and said plans for the show are "up in the air."
Producer Lane told Playbill On-Line, "The audiences were having a wonderful time. Gay Burns, the talk show host, even said we had standing ovations. Still, we tried to make it clear to the critics this was a musical drama, not a comedy or satire. Groups came in from America -- young and old alike loved the show. They all had a wonderful time." Asked what his current options are with the show, Lane said, "We could see it on the West End or on tour, possibly in winter or spring 1998. Or maybe on tour to two or three cities in the U.S. Yes, it will need rewrites to get it up to New York speed. We're looking to redefine where the focus of the piece is. Right now it focuses on Joe Kennedy Sr., so the first act is almost a prologue to the JFK story. Joe Senior graduated from Harvard, he was the only Catholic in a Protestant school. Soon he learned that power is the name of the game, and in the late 1930s, he became ambassador to England. Act one covers that through John's run for Congress, but we need to see that sooner. We need to refocus on the son's story."
Even if JFK doesn't regroup from its Dublin setback, producer Lane has many other projects to keep himself busy: "Right now I'm developing a new play that I'm hoping to direct at the University of Oklahoma. Last summer I did Accentuate The Positive by Fred Stroppel there. That's in the rewrite stage. I'm also working on the movie version of Stroppel's Fortunes Fools, which played Off-Broadway."
As for JFK, author/composer Will Holt (libretto for The Me Nobody Knows, Music Is, Platinum and Over Here!) and co-librettist Tom Sawyer, changed the name from Jack to JFK because, as production spokesperson Keith Sherman told the New York Post, they feared the musical would be perceived as a "cutesy, song and dance show," whereas it's a more serious work. Musical numbers "Harvard, Fairest Harvard," "Dear Dad," "I Have No Fear," "How's Jack Doing?", "Inaugural Ball."
The creators and producers (Isobel Robins Konecky, Stewart F. Lane, Max Weitzernhoffer) also knew the show needed more work before a New York run. They were considering a NY or regional workshop when the producers took the musical to a London general manager, who was mulling West End production. Suddenly, however, Ireland made the most sense.
Spokesperson Jim Byk told Playbill On-Line, "Amazingly enough, it cost only a little more to do a fully-scaled production in Dublin than it would have to do a workshop in Manhattan. And they discovered that Jack Kennedy is a real hero in Ireland; he's the ultimate Irish immigrant success story, and there's a real fascination with the Kennedy family there."
According to Byk, JFK - A Musical Drama focuses largely on the Joe/Jack relationship, a father/son power struggle that shifts when the oldest Kennedy child, Joseph Jr., is shot down in World War II. "And JFK's assassination is tactfully handled. The whole musical is sort of Evita ish, the feel is similar." Larry Fuller, who choreographed Evita, Sweeney Todd, On The Twentieth Century and Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway, is choreographing and directing JFK.
The Dublin production is cast completely with Irish and English actors, featuring Maurice Clarke as JFK -- a role he played in the West End musical, King, about the life of Martin Luther King. He's also starred in London in City Of Angels, Les Miz and Brigadoon. Joseph Kennedy Sr., is played by Gary Raymond, Rose by Stella McCusker, Jacqueline Kennedy by Monica Ernestis, Bobby by Michael Londra, and Honey Fitz by Brian De Salvo.
Byk told Playbill On-Line the show's official logo is a rendering of a beaming Jack Kennedy, with the image of his face made up of little "JFK" initials.
Composer/librettist Holt has worked on Broadway's Me And Bessie, The Me Nobody Knows, Over Here!, Music Is, and Platinum. Librettist Sawyer, head writer for TV's "Murder She Wrote," is the co-creator and publisher of "Plots Unlimited" interactive software for fiction writers.
-- By David Lefkowitz