Little Women, the new musical based on the Louisa May Alcott novel, will not appear in Boston and on Broadway this fall, but is more likely for spring, according to a production spokesman.
The business details of bringing on new collaborators after cutting loose the original songwriters kept producers Randall L. Wreghitt and Dani Davis so busy they weren't able to plan for the fall staging, according to a spokesman. Wregitt is quoted in the July 6 Variety saying, "It just didn't allow us the time to open this fall."
The planned Sept. 22-Oct. 8 tryout in Boston at the Wilbur Theatre and the Nov. 15 Broadway opening at the Ambassador Theatre have been scrapped, but dates are available in Boston in February-March 2001 and the producers hope Little Women will open on Broadway in April 2001.
Nick Corley will direct and Jennifer Paulson Lee will choreograph the production. The sentimental coming of age story about sisters growing up in Civil War-era Boston made headlines this spring when Wreghitt replaced the show's songwriting team five months before its 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.
It is not clear what the Oler-Hubbard negotiations yielded. Presumably, there was talk about whether or not they will get a cut of the gross and/or if they will be able to use their songs for another Little Women script (the novel is in the public domain and any songs not linked specifically to the Knee libretto might have a future life in another musical version of the story of the March family).
Presumably, the original songwriters had the option of having their work augmented by another team, which would have retained at least some of the original score that had first intrigued Wreghitt. Some speculate Oler and Hubbard wanted "all or nothing" of their score in the show.
For now, whatever appeared attractive to Wreghitt and his investors in the first place will not be heard when Little Women plays Boston and Broadway in 2001.
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 is an associate producer of Broadway's The Real Thing.
-- By Kenneth Jones