The 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII of Great Britain for the woman he loved -- American divorcee Wallis Simpson -- is the subject of Only a Kingdom, a new musical starting previews Nov. 6 at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Producers Vivian Rabin and Robert T. Kuss hope to move the show to Broadway in the 1999-2000 season, but no specifics have been announced, pending response in Southern California. Official opening is Nov. 15; Only a Kingdom continues in Pasadena through Dec. 20.
This is newcomer librettist-lyricist-composer Judith Shubow Steir's first produced show. Following staged readings on the East Coast, a workshop in Boston and a full production seen at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, VA., and the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem, NC., the West Coast premiere is directed by Scott Schwartz, who staged No Way to Treat a Lady at the York Theatre Off-Broadway and at the Signature Theatre in Washington DC.
Pasadena Playhouse public relations director David A. Tucker II told Playbill On-Line (Nov. 2) there have been "significant" rewrites since the 1997 staging, and Schwartz and Steir are working closely on the book. Probably "80 percent" of changes had to do with the book, Tucker said, and there have been some song modifications as a result.
Tucker said the musical is "very much in the tradition of Rodgers and Hammerstein" and doesn't attempt to bring in a pop-rock sound. Interest in the show is high, Tucker said, because there is always a fascination with the Royal Family. Other musicals about British royalty include 1960's Camelot (the King Arthur story), 1976's Rex (about Henry VIII) and, most recently, the October 1998 Off-Off-Broadway musical, Queen of Hearts, about Diana, Princess of Wales.
The abdication story was the subject of the popular British TV miniseries, "Edward and Mrs. Simpson," and also inspired a 1997 London musical called Always.
Only a Kingdom details Edward and Mrs. Simpson's early romance and marriage and the opposition their romance faced. The British government, the people, the church, and those who wanted to preserve the integrity and dignity of the Royal Family all objected.
In her author's notes, Steir writes about her research (which began in 1987) into what many call the century's greatest romance: "Instead of 'Cinderella,' I began to feel the real tale was 'The Fair Maiden Awakens the Sleeping Prince.'"
Steir relied on accounts by the couple's butler of 15 years, a secretary of 10 years, and their many lifelong friends.
Stan Chandler, who has performed regionally in Forever Plaid and in Hal Prince's Broadway revival and touring production of Cabaret, plays Edward; Kaitlin Hopkins, who has acted regionally, Off Broadway and in L.A., is Wallis; and Mary Pat Gleason, of Off Broadway and regional work, plays famed hostess Elsa Maxwell.
The Pasadena cast also includes Eileen Barnett, Chad Borden, Kevin Burns, Christopher Callen, Teresa Lynn Chapman, John Connolly, Jennifer Gordon, Tom Knickerbocker, Hap Lawrence, David Parker, Jack Ritschel, Mark Allen Ruegg, Michele Scarpa, Peter Schmidt and Leslie Stevens.
Designers for the Pasadena staging are James Joy (sets), Diana Eden (costumes), Michael Gilliam (lighting), Jon Gottlieb (sound). Daniel Stewart choreographs, James Vukovich is musical director and Peter Mansfield is music supervisor/arranger/orchestrator.
Writer-composer Steir has written songs throughout her life, but it wasn't until her children were grown that she pursued writing professionally. She studied composition with Boston musician Henry Lasker, and wrote an as-yet unproduced, autobiographical musical, Far Above Rubies, about a mother who longs for an artistic life. That script caught the attention of novice producer Robert T. Kuss, who suggested she explore the Edward and Mrs. Simpson story. Kuss and Rabin (Steir's daughter) are newcomers to the producing game.
Announced as general manager for a New York run is Marvin A. Krauss, who won a Tony Award as executive producer of La Cage aux folles and co-produced Grand Hotel, Death of a Salesman with Dustin Hoffman, Merlin, Legs Diamond and more. He was the general manager for numerous Broadway shows and tours:, including Steel Pier, Taking Sides and the 20th anniversary tour of Annie.
The Pasadena Playhouse is at 39 South El Molino Ave., in Pasadena, CA. For tickets ($11.50-$42.50) or information, call (800) 233-3123.
This musical has no connection (other than subject matter) with the aforementioned Always, the William May/Jason Sprague musical that opened in London in June 1997. Kingdom premiered Oct. 10, 1997, at Mill Mountain Theatre, then played at Winston-Salem, NC's Stevens Center, Nov. 12-16.
Songs in Only A Kingdom in 1997 included "The Moment," "You Can't Be Too Rich Or Too Thin," "It's So Difficult To Please A Queen" (performed by Winston Churchill) and "Home Is Where The Duchess Is."
The Mill Mountain staging featured David Staller as Edward. Michael Larsen directed in Virginia, with choreography by Donald Saddler.