Little Women had hoped to be in Boston and New York City in the current season, but the new musical based on the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel will not arrive in 2000-2001, a spokesman has confirmed.
The producers, Randall L. Wreghitt and Dani Davis, are now targeting Broadway for 2001-2002. The delay gives the new songwriting team of composer Jason Howland and lyricist Mindi Dickstein time to hone their score and will also allow time for a suitable theatre to open up.
The show was announced for a Sept. 22-Oct. 8 tryout at Boston's Wilbur Theatre and a late-fall opening at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, but that was put off to spring due to business details of the changeover from one songwriting team (Kim Oler and Allison Hubbard) to another (Howland and Dickstein).
The new score has been heard in invited-audience readings around New York City. A spring date was hoped for, but that is now off. As is usual with a new show in process, further readings can be expected, a spokesman said.
The business details of bringing on new collaborators after cutting loose the original songwriters kept producers Wreghitt and Davis so busy they weren't able to plan for the fall staging, according to a spokesman. Broadway theatres are scarce for spring. When it does transpire, Little Women will be directed by Nick Corley and choreographed by Jennifer Paulson Lee.
The sentimental coming of age story about sisters growing up in Civil War-era Boston made headlines in spring 2000 when Wreghitt replaced the show's songwriting team five months before its planned Boston tryout. Up to that point, Little Women, a Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning project, had been shaped for years by lyricist Allison Hubbard and composer Kim Oler, who apparently initiated the project.
Composer Jason Howland and lyricist Mindi Dickstein were handed the songwriting duties following a March-April 2000 workshop and reading which showed Wreghitt, according to a report in Newsday, that Oler and Hubbard "couldn't take the show where it had to go" artistically.
Hubbard and Oler declined a Playbill On-Line request to speak about the matter.
According to a production spokesman, the score will be entirely new and not use any Hubbard-Oler material. Allan Knee (Syncopation) remains as book writer.
Prior to stepping in as composer, Howland was one of the Little Women producers (along with Dani Davis), but he has now dropped his producer role to concentrate on the music, a spokesman said.
Some observers thought the production team was pushing it by putting together a new score in less than six months (between the spring workshop and September tryout), but such a Herculean task is not unheard of: Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein were under a strict deadline -- several weeks -- for Wonderful Town, which became a hit in 1953.
And it's not unheard of for songwriters to be brought into an existing musical project: Jerry Herman gave in to David Merrick's contracting of Bob Merrill for Hello, Dolly!, for which Merrill penned "Motherhood March" and "Elegance," with refinements by Herman. Also for Dolly!, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams wrote a song called "Before the Parade Passes By," which Herman took the title of and wrote anew, according to Steven Suskin's book, "Show Tunes" (Oxford Press).
Similarly, Maury Yeston was brought in to inject tunes into George Forrest and Robert Wright's Grand Hotel.
For the April 6-8, 2000, readings, Corley directed a cast of 10, with Lee providing musical staging. Constantine Kitsopoulos musical directed. The cast included Robert Bartley, John Dossett, Jennifer Gambatese, Joe Machota, Lucy Martin, Jan Maxwell, Megan McGinnis, Kerry O'Malley, Robert Stattel and Becky Watson.
Wreghitt previously told Playbill On-Line that the script crossed his desk the same time he was embarking on his first Broadway producing venture, The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The timing wasn't right for him to address Little Women, but his interest lingered for two years.
He said he was struck by the humanity of the piece, by book writer Knee, composer Oler and lyricist Hubbard.
"I think it's real and so applicable to the real world to men and women," he said. "There are universal truths [in Little Women]."
The novel follows the four March sisters in New England during The Civil War. They spar, they grow, they have their first brushes with romance and one, famously, dies. Another, Jo, becomes a writer.
Following script circulation and a 1998 reading at the York Theatre Company, Little Women earned a reputation as a warm, rueful family show. Those who saw the York reading recall the plaintive Hubbard lyric sung by the girls' mother, who compared her brood to a garden. She sang of losing one child to an early frost.
Wreghitt was a producer of Off-Broadway's The Waverly Gallery and an associate producer of Broadway's The Real Thing.
-- By Kenneth Jones