It is no exaggeration to say the production of Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, which ends its stay at Chicago's Marriott's Lincolnshire Theatre Oct. 4, has been more than three decades in the making.
The seeds of the musical were planted many years ago after the death in 1966 of Ballroom book writer Jerome Kass' father. Lonely, Kass' widowed mother began to visit the Stardust Ballroom in the Bronx, where she danced and fell in love with a mailman "with the soul of a poet."
Kass did not discover the details of this December romance until after his mother's death in 1973. Inspired, he collaborated with composer Billy Goldenberg and lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman on a television musical based on his mother's story. "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" aired on CBS in 1975 with Charles Durning and Maureen Stapleton in the leads. Kass won the Writers Guild of American award for his efforts.
Plans were soon underway to take Ballroom to the Broadway stage. However, the structure of the movie was largely abandoned and the ending changed. Despite directing and choreography by Michael Bennett, the 1978 musical closed at Broadway's Majestic Theatre after only 116 performances.
Now, after nearly 20 years, the show is back. The original team of Kass, Goldenberg, and the Bergmans have returned to the original concept and added songs deleted from the Broadway version. The Chicago Ballroom stars Louisa Flaningam and Joel Hatch. David Taylor directs and Arte Phillips provides the choreography. "If it's successful, what we'd like to do is tour it around the country," said Kass, reached at his New York home, "because I think it does well with those people who don't necessarily get to Broadway. And then, of course, we'd love to bring it to Broadway."
Queen of the Stardust Ballroom began previews July 29 and opened Aug. 5. For information, call (847) 634-0200.
-- By Robert Simonson