Little Mary Sunshine Gets More NYC Readings As She Reaches for Bway

News   Little Mary Sunshine Gets More NYC Readings As She Reaches for Bway The producers of the Broadway hopeful, Little Mary Sunshine, will offer two more summer readings of the musical Aug. 20 and 22 at Chelsea Studios in Manhattan.
Sarah Rice as Johanna in Sweeney Todd.
Sarah Rice as Johanna in Sweeney Todd. (Photo by Photo by Martha Swope)

The producers of the Broadway hopeful, Little Mary Sunshine, will offer two more summer readings of the musical Aug. 20 and 22 at Chelsea Studios in Manhattan.

Chuck Wagner (of the original Into the Woods) plays Capt. Big Jim of the forest rangers, and Sarah Rice (the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd) is the title character, Mary Potts, proprietress of the Colorado Inn. Jonathan Tunick, the respected orchestrator and conductor associated with Sondheim projects, is the music director and conductor. The Broadway target is 2003-04.

The sweet spoof of operettas, by late composer lyricist-librettist Rick Besoyan, opened Off-Broadway in 1959 and played more than 1,000 performances. The musical comedy has enjoyed a huge stock and amateur life all over the world, but never had a Broadway bow. Rice (the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd) and husband John Hiller are shepherding the project as producers. Previous summer readings were held July 18-19.

The reading cast includes Chapman Roberts (Chief Brown Bear Chief of the Kadota Indians), Mike Daisey (Cpl. Billy Jester, a Forest Ranger), Chuck Wagner (Capt. Big Jim Warington, Captain of the Forest Rangers), Sarah Rice (Mary Potts, Proprietress of the Colorado Inn), Marni Nixon (Mme. Ernestine von Liebedich, an Opera Singer), Tari Kelly (Nancy Twinkle, Little Mary's Maid), Edmound Fitzpatrick (Fleet Foot, an Indian Guide), Doug Wynn (Yellow Feather, Chief Brown Bear's Son), Hal Robinson (Gen. Uncle Oscar Fairfax, Ret., a Washington Diplomat), with Susan Derry, Jenna Esposito, Kelly M. Esposito, Debbie Fuhrman, Grace Greig, Tiffany Hampton, Barbie Harger and Shelby Rose as the Young Ladies of the Eastchester Finishing School) and Kyle Bradford, Edmound Fitzpatrick, Brad Lohrenz, Tom Lucca, Danny Vaccaro, Monte Wheeler, Brad Wilson and Doug Wynn as the Young Gentlemen of the United States Forest Rangers.

Jamie Rocco directs, Sharon Halley choreographs. Arrangements and orchestrations are by Arnold Goland. Designers slated for the project are Howard Baker (scenic) and Gregg Barnes (costume). The original production spawned a cast album.

Hiller and Rice's MadjaLook Productions is producing and inviting potential investors.

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The musical pays comic homage to silent-era film romances and operettas — the kind in which Colorado forest rangers fall in love with kindly innkeepers. Hiller and his collaborators are aiming at Broadway in 2002-2003, with a planned capitalization of $10 million.

John Hiller, Sarah Rice and Paul Jackel are producing partners in Madjalook Productions, and hold the Broadway rights to the musical comedy written by the late Besoyan. The show is designed as a vehicle for Rice.

Visit www.littlemarysunshine-bway.com .

The musical opened at Off-Broadway's Orpheum Theatre in 1959 and played 1,143 performances. The original two-piano arrangement was expanded for orchestra for a cast album. Hiller told Playbill On Line a full orchestra of 26 is part of the budget for the new production, which will have a cast of 22.

The book of the show has been tweaked to make references to Native Americans more politically correct, Hiller said. A villainous character named Yellowfeather is interested in Mary.

"There are good guys and bad guys in this: The bad guy is a Native American, called Yellowfeather," Hiller said. "The Besoyan estate that controls the rights put a change in the script. All the fake 'Indian-speak' has been taken out."

A member of the Lakota tribe was consulted on changes in the script.

The story takes place in a 24-hour period in which the characters all fall in love, in the Rocky Mountains. The visual concept for the show is 1900-era art nouveau, a world of Maxfield Parrish and Louis Comfort Tifffany, Rice said. Howard Barker (the show's original designer and co-producer) is attached a scenic designer.

The idea for reviving the show for a major production was Rice's. She said she has loved the show for years, since she performed it as a teenager in a church production.

The show's presence in the regional, school and amateur market is not small. "The market is seeded," Hiller said. "There have been tens of thousands of productions. This is a proven property."

A Broadway house of about 1,400 seats is on the wish list and an out of town regional tryout is possible, Hiller said.

Rice, an opera and musical theatre soprano who wowed Broadway with her Johanna in Sweeney Todd in 1979, avoided the word "operetta" and "spoof" when discussing Little Mary Sunshine, but with song titles such as "Do You Ever Dream of Vienna?," "In Izzenschnooken on the Lovely Ezzenzook Zee" and "Colorado Love Call," Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy can't be too far away.

"What Little Mary is — it's really about icons, certain archetypes," Rice said. "If you look at the silent movies, there's the impossibly pure heroine who was embodied by people like Mary Pickford...and the impossibly handsome, virile leading man..."

But, she said, "The thing with the piece is, you can't do it 'camp.' We are definitely not going the camp route. People take the show on two levels: There will be some people who understand the humor and some who take the show as it is — people who never saw Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy [movies] love the show!"

Rice said the show will offer actors to opportunity to be special, and to exhibit personalities, like in the old days.

"The thing that has distressed me about Broadway for the last 10 years is that there were huge productions with cookie-cutter performances — personalities were not allowed to emerge," Rice observed. "It's been very frustrating to see that. We wanted to allow off center personalities to emerge."

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According to this production's official Little Mary Sunshine website, Besoyan's "theatrical works, Off Broadway and on Broadway, were small in number—just three musicals and one cabaret revue. However...Little Mary Sunshine...has had, at last count, more than a hundred thousand showings in all 50 of the United States and 30 foreign countries."

Besoyan's credits include the night club revue, In Your Hat, which sowed the seeds of Little Mary Sunshine. He followed Little Mary with The Student Gypsy, or The Prince of Liederkranz (Broadway) and Babes in the Wood (Off-Broadway).

At the time of his death, he had completed a full scale musical version of Paul Gallico's Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. It was never produced, according to the website.