Back in June, Eric D. Schaeffer, artistic director of Arlington, VA's Signature Theatre and a musical director of growing reputation, directed a reading of John Kander and Fred Ebb's new musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. The invitation-only reading must've gone pretty well, because the show is now officially on the Signature schedule, due to start previews Jan. 6, 1999 for a run through Feb. 14, 1999.
Now titled "Over & Over", the show a about the Antrobus family's survival in the face of biblical disasters features such new songs as "Eat The Ice Cream," "The Wheel," "Nice People," "I Can See The Future," "The Promise," "At The Rialto" and "The Skin of Our Teeth."
No casting has yet been announced, though Signature spokesperson Paul Gamble told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 20) names are expected within a week or two. The hope is to have the production's elements lined-up before Labor Day, because director Schaeffer has to fly to L.A. to direct Putting It Together. Rehearsals for Over & Over would likely start in November.
The cast of the reading included Debra Monk (Steel Pier) and David Garrison (Titanic) in the lead roles of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, with Michele Pawk as their conniving maid, the temptress Sabina. Carol Woods played the fortune teller. Casting for the full production, which may differ from that of the reading, is expected to be announced in September.
The cast of the Skin of Our Teeth reading was well versed in Kander and Ebb's work. Monk starred in Kander and Ebb's most recent Broadway outing, 1997's Steel Pier, while Pawk is currently starring in the hit Broadway revival of Cabaret. In the non-Kander & Ebb Titanic, Garrison played White Star Line owner J. Bruce Ismay. Other major theatre roles include Off-Broadway's I Do! I Do!, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and the Chicago production of Randy Newman's Faust, in which Garrison played Satan. Schaeffer said this was the first reading of Skin in which he'd been involved, and that he had been working with the composers for some time. The score, he said, is big, totaling some 15 or 16 songs. "I think it's one of their best scores ever," Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer will direct the full production, one reason Kander & Ebb chose to debut Over & Over in DC. "Redoing The Rink at Signature Theatre was one of the best working experiences in our career," said Ebb in a statement. "Signature audiences are receptive, warm and intelligent. We hope to come up with something that will be as delightful to experience as it was for us to write."
When Steel Pier was in spring 1997 rehearsals, Ebb told Playbill On-Line that he'd begun Skin of Our Teeth before Steel Pier, but because of the unique nature of the show's structure, they needed a director with a unique vision to carry it off.
Schaefer directed a critically-praised reinterpretation of Sondheim & Lapine's Passion in 1996, which put him on the map nationally. For NY City's Center's "Encores!" series, he directed the 1997 production of Sweet Adeline.
The songwriting team told Playbill On-Line in January that they had moved The Skin of Our Teeth to the top of their agenda. Speaking just hours after his Chicago revival CD was nominated for a Grammy Award, composer Kander said he and lyricist Ebb are "working away on a revision" of their Skin of Our Teeth musical, which had a New York workshop production with Monk, James Naughton and Bernadette Peters in summer 1996. "It's very much on the front burner," he said.
Among Kander & Ebb's other musicals are Cabaret, Steel Pier, The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Zorba, Woman of the Year, The Rink and And The World Goes 'Round.
The Skin of Our Teeth is one of the more unorthodox plays to have won the Pulitzer Prize (1943). A wide-ranging, sometimes surreal allegory about the human spirit and survival ("by the skin of our teeth"), it tells the story of the Antrobus family of New Jersey, and how they withstand ice ages, hurricanes, temptations of the flesh and other apocalyptic travails.
As chance would have it, the New York Shakespeare Festival is presenting a revival of the original non-musical play The Skin of Our Teeth in Central Park this summer, running June 12-July 12. John Goodman ("Roseanne") and Frances Conroy (The Rehearsal) star as Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus and Kristen Johnston of TV's "Third Rock From the Sun" plays Sabina. Irene Lewis, artistic director of Baltimore MD's Center Stage, directs the piece, which has received poor to mixed reviews.
Tickets for Over & Over go on sale Sept. 13, 10 AM, at the box office or via ProTix, (703) 218-6500.
Also lined up for the 1998-99 Signature season:
A Little Night Music (Aug. 18-Sept. 27) will open the season, continuing the theatre's tradition of staging Sondheim. Directing will be Frank Lombardi, who recently assisted Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer on the theatre's current attraction, The Fix.
Next on the line-up is Nijinsky's Last Dance (Nov. 3-Dec. 13) by Signature's playwright-in-residence, Norman Allen. The one-man drama delves into the dancer's psyche during the last moments of his life.
After Over & Over comes Tell Me on a Sunday (Mar. 16-Apr. 25, opening Mar. 22). The musical originally appeared as the first half of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, which starred Bernadette Peters in its 1985 Broadway incarnation. Sherri Edelen, who appeared in Signature's Assassins and The Rink, plays an English girl coming to terms with American customs and men. Marcia Gardner will direct.
The company will then present Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches (May. 25-July 3, 1999, opening June 1, 1999), under the direction of Lee Mikeska Gardner. The season final selection will be a Washington or world premiere musical director by Schaeffer, to be announced this fall.
For information on any of the productions, call (703) 218-6500.
As for progress on the recent Signature musical The Fix, Signature spokesperson Paul Gamble told Playbill On-Line (July 9), the show was still seeking out a regional venue, as it needs "one more production before New York."
The Dana P. Rowe-John Dempsey musical received its London premiere in spring 1997 at the Donmar Warehouse, under the direction of Sam Mendes. Cameron Mackintosh, who was a producer of that staging and controls the rights to the show, has a hand in the Signature mounting. Gamble said that since that incarnation, the musical -- about the rise and fall of an American politician -- has added five new songs and the book has been substantially changed.