Based on the Hugh Lofting stories, this new Doctor Dolittle is produced by Pittsburgh CLO and its executive producer Van Kaplan, with book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The famed screenwriter and songwriter Bricusse will borrow tunes and plot points from his Academy Award-winning 1967 film, "Doctor Dolittle," but the new stage show will reinvent and refine the property to be uniquely theatrical, Kaplan told Playbill On-Line.
A London stage version of the show was mounted in 1998 and later toured. As in London, the gaggle of creatures to be seen in the American staging will be created by the Jim Henson workshop. The American tour is expected to run 18 months, and will not be a carbon copy of what was seen in London.
"It's a different conception," Kaplan told Playbill On-Line. "More theatrical and actor-based." The cast will total about 30.
The creative team beyond Bricusse has not been announced, nor has the first city on the tour. Pittsburgh was mentioned as a launch possibility for June 2005, but that may change as scheduling is solidified.
"We're negotiating for a launch city, but it will have a place in Pittsburgh [eventually]," Kaplan said. "The routing of the show and how it's going to tour is being worked out." The plan for the tour came to light with a recent resident announcement that Doctor Dolittle would play the Ordway Center in Saint Paul, MN Aug. 16-28, 2005. Columbia Artists Theatricals is handling the booking of the route, and The Nederlander Organization is a partner in the project.
At least one brand new Leslie Bricusse song will be heard in the American production, Kaplan said. Bricusse has been intensely involved in the Pittsburgh CLO development of Doctor Dolittle over the past two years.
Bricusse is no stranger to stage musicals, having collaborated on Jekyll & Hyde; Stop the World — I Want to Get Off; The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd and Victor/Victoria, but generations of people know his hit songs from being exposed (as kids) to such family-friendly movies as "Doctor Dolittle" (in which Rex Harrison sang "Talk to the Animals"), "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (which included "The Candy Man"), "Scrooge" (known for the haunting "You" and joyous "Thank You Very Much") and the Peter O'Toole-Petula Clark remake of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (which offered the romantic ballad "You and I"). With John Barry, he wrote "Goldfinger," and penned a collection of other hits with other writers.
"Talk to the Animals" won the Academy Award for Best Song and the Rex Harrison vehicle won a Special Effects Oscar, and was nominated in a number of categories — including Best Picture in a decade when lavish musicals were routinely produced for the screen.
The score of the show includes such songs as "When I Look in Your Eyes," "At the Crossroads" and "I've Never Seen Anything Like It."
No casting has been announced, though stars will be approached for the title role. The producers are in the unique position of having a title that is worth as much as a star-actor's name.
"We believe the name of the show is a brand and it brings an awful lot with it," Kaplan said.
The original movie "Doctor Dolittle" brought to life such oddities as a two-headed llama called a pushmi-pullyu, a gigantic lunar moth (it carried actors aloft in the London run) and a host of birds, apes, reptiles and more.
A new film franchise of the character has been popular in recent years, with Eddie Murphy essaying the good doctor.
For information about the dawning new musical, visit www.doctordolittlethemusical.com.
Steven Pimlott directed the 1998 West End musical Doctor Dolittle. He was nominated for an Olivier Award for the revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium (it was later seen in North America).
For the West End run, the voice of Julie Andrews was used for Polynesia the parrot. Polynesia taught the good doctor to talk in all the animal languages.
Van Kaplan and Pittsburgh CLO have produced several touring productions including the American premiere of Barry Manilow's Copacabana and the world premiere of Casper The Musical starring Chita Rivera, plus the 1998 Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Jodi Benson and the Osmonds.