HOUSTON -- "It's still the same sweet romance, but the tone is different, broader, more contemporary," explained Phil Oesterman about his theatrical adaptation of the 1948 movie musical Easter Parade.
In this latest update to Playbill On-Line about its development, Oesterman was shooting for a Broadway opening by, or on, Easter, of 1999, despite recent problems in Australia.
Oesterman said he has his eye on a prospective Broadway theatre, but felt it would be premature to name it, since it has a current tenant.
"We're focusing more on the relationship of the lead characters, as performers and as lovers," Oesterman said. "The Peter Lawford character has been taken out, for instance." Just about all of Irving Berlin's songs, however, remain.
In addition to writing the book, Oesterman is co-directing Easter Parade with Tommy Tune, who's starring in the Fred Astaire role alongside Sandy Duncan in the Judy Garland part. (Theater buffs, a trivia question: Duncan was Tune's first dance partner in what? The answer is not My One and Only, in which they toured nationally a ways back). Oesterman is a longtime collaborator of Tune, having teamed with the multiple Tony Award-winner on more than 20 productions, including My One and Only, Grand Hotel, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and The Will Rogers Follies! Easter Parade for the stage began with a nod from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which controls the Irving Berlin catalogue, Oesterman said. The producers approached Tune, asking to work with him on whatever he wanted from Berlin's oeuvre. Looking for a vehicle to replace the ill-fated Buskers (to which Oesterman contributed in its later phases), Tune chose Easter Parade.
Other writers were initially involved in creating the Easter Parade book but Oesterman says he was so displeased with the results that he took over the task himself. When he finished the first draft, he called Tune up, told him to come over, and read it right then. It's been through many rewrites since.
About a year ago, the Act I was workshopped for friends and producers at Theatre Under The Stars in Houston. Shortly thereafter the scenario was repeated at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York. In November and December of 1997, the entire show was workshopped in Australia, and overhauled. "But it was a huge disappointment," Oesterman said. The musical was never given a major production Down Under, Oesterman said, partly because no theaters were available in the city of choice, Sydney.
New backers have been found, Oesterman said, and Easter Parade tentatively will begin out-of-town tryouts in November 1998 at The 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company in Seattle, the sister company of Theatre Under The Stars. "We wanted to premiere in Houston, since Tommy and I are native sons, and Frank [Young, president and CEO of Theatre Under The Stars] said he could find us a venue up until August 31. But we couldn't guarantee that we'd be ready by then, not with the script and especially not with the sets that will have to be built after the script is set." At the very least, Oesterman had hoped for the premiere to occur somewhere in Texas because all the major players in front of and behind the stage are form the Lone Star State.
Oesterman provided Playbill On-Line with this Easter Parade update after a recent performance of Take This Show and Shove It, a campy country-western revue-cum-musical about a family of eccentric crooners: a red-hot momma, her two hot-and-sassy daughters, and her outrageous drag queen son. Oesterman co-wrote, co-directed, and co-choreographed Take This Show and Shove It, which uses as its score country-western standards by the likes of Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Clint Black, and even Cole Porter ("Don't Fence Me In"). A self-described work-in-progress that still was finding plotlines and shaping characters, it abruptly closed two weeks into an open-ended run at The Great Caruso, a Houston supper club. It will apparently be mounted this July at Cinegrill, in Los Angeles, a cabaret theater in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
-- By Peter Szatmary