Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song & Dance will be spicier than usual in a world premiere revision Feb. 8-March 12 at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse.
The onetime Broadway vehicle for Bernadette Peters and, later, Betty Buckley, will only be partly recognizable to fans of the 1985 Broadway version by Lloyd Webber and lyricists Don Black and Richard Maltby Jr.
Known as a kind of emotional travelogue about Englishwoman Emma's adventures in New York City (Act One) and her boyfriend's life (told all in dance in Act Two), the musical was a tour-de-force for Peters (who won a Tony Award for the part) and has been seen in various versions, prior to New York and after.
Jack Allison, the director who conceived this new version, told Playbill On-Line the rewrite was the idea of Coconut Grove producing artistic director Arnold Mittelman, who wanted to reach out to Miami's Cuban American community. Mittelman approached Black about turning the character of Emma, originally a hat designer, into a Cuban actress named Marta who comes to New York at the behest of a lover-theatrical agent. The show would follow Marta's emotional journey, but with some lyric rewrites and Latin musical arrangements.
"It's still about the longing," said Allison, "about coming to a new place and a new country and tying to fit in."
This version is drawn from a script that came after the New York staging, Allison said. Songs such as "English Girls" were not in that version, or in the London hit in 1982, which played two years and toured Britain and Australia.
The Miami staging is set in the early 1980s, in a time when Cubans were desperately fleeing the communist nation for Florida's coast. Allison said he expects the Cuban and Hispanic community to connect to the tensions and hopes of the world the company is creating. He hopes the piece has a future and plays eventually in New York City and Los Angeles, which have large Hispanic populations.
Act One, known as Tell Me on a Sunday, is performed by Lissette, an international actress-singer with hits on the Latin American Top 10 music charts. She has recorded more than 25 albums is known for the TV program, "Lissette and Friends."
Act Two, Variations, musically inspired by Paganini, features Lissette only briefly. She transforms into a dancing Marta, performed by international dancer Myrna Kamara. The score's most famous number (arguably), "Unexpected Song," comes in Act Two, Allison said.
The men in Marta's life -- the agent, producer Sheldon Bloom, a flamenco dancer named Paco, a married man named Sam -- appear briefly in the first act and do not sing.
Act One is resolved, but Lissette appears at the top of Act Two and meets a fifth man, a wall street broker who falls in love with her. Will she give in?
"Act Two is about the nightmares of the first four [men] and if she should take a risk with man No. 5," Allison said.
Choreography is by Margo Sappington (Oh, Calcutta!). Steven Sandburg is dance arranger and musical director. Additional Latin-beat orchestrations (salsa, tango and more) are by Jose Gallegos and Fernando Otero in Act One, and by Hector Garrido in Act Two.
Since September 1999, Allison has spoken with with lyricist Black, who has provided rewrites. Maltby is not involved, because this version is based on a non-Maltby version of Song & Dance. Maltby also directed in New York.
The Miami staging includes "The Last Man in My Life," which Marti Webb sang in a non-Broadway version, Allison said. "Nothing Like You've Ever Known" is also heard here.
The looser, British version of the show in 1982 ran two years in London and toured Britain and Australia.
Black is expected to attend a performance of the show, and Allison and Mittelman are hopeful that Lloyd Webber might also be able to attend. Official opening is Feb. 11.
The company also includes flamenco dancer Jose Junco, Eric Hoisington, Eric H. Kaufman, Patrick Mullaney and Gary Giffune.
Designers are Rob Odorisio (sets), Ellis Tillman (costumes). Kirk Bookman (lighting) and Steve Shapiro (sound).
Tickets are $10-$40. Coconut Grove is at 3500 Main Highway in Miami. Call (305) 442-4000 or visit the website at www.cgplayhouse.com.
-- By Kenneth Jones