In the latest of a series of unorthodox efforts to shore up the fortunes of the Broadway musical The Scarlet Pimpernel, director Robert Longbottom (Side Show, Off-Broadway's Pageant) is being brought in to restage the show. After a week of swirling rumors, Radio City Entertainment Senior Vice President Tim Hawkins confirmed to Playbill On-Line that Longbottom would collaborate with Pimpernel composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Nan Knighton on a new version of the musical.
"Bobby [Longbottom] is coming in to do some work on the show," said Hawkins. "There have been a lot of things that the creative team have wanted to do for a long time now and we figured our coming in as the new producers was a good time to do it." Radio City Entertainment, along with Ted Forstmann, recently bought the musical from its original producers. Hawkins said the musical's original director, Peter Hunt, would not take an active role in the reconception, although his ideas on the matter have been solicited. "Peter is in California and focusing on TV projects," he said. "He's a part of the process, but not on a day-to-day basis."
Asked if Nan Knighton had been doing rewrites, Hawking replied, "Nan's doing a lot of work with [Longbottom] reshaping elements of the show. Frank Wildhorn is working on it to." Hawkins declined to comment on any specific details concerning Pimpernel's makeover, or whether the new production would be less expensive to run.
As first speculated by various sources including InTheater, the cast of Pimpernel will, during the month of September, rehearse the new version of the musical during the day while performing the old one at night. The production will then shut down for a few days during the first week of October. "We plan to have the new version on stage the week of the 12th of October," said Hawkins. If the plan runs on schedule, that would mean audiences would get there first glimpse of the refashioned musical on Tues., Oct. 13.
The contracts for the show's leading players, which included Douglas Sills, Christine Andreas and Terrence Mann, end in early October. Hawkins denied reports that Radio City was intent upon not renewing the contracts of certain actors, saying that no casting decisions had been made. "Some people are interested in staying on, some are not," he said. "It's a big commitment, with the new rehearsals and all. It's something [the actors] have to think through." Nonetheless, Jane McCormick, who represents actor David Hasselhoff, told PBOL that Pimpernel producers had talked to the "Baywatch" star about taking over Terrence Mann's role in the musical. Negotiations did not pan out, however. "It's not a question of turning it down," she said. "[Hasselhoff] just was not able to do it." Hawkins said he was unaware of any discussions with Hasselhoff.
In other recent Scarlet news, Radio City Entertainment, a division of Cablevision Systems Corporation, along with entrepreneur Ted Forstmann, recently purchased Pimpernel. The unusual move, which suggests Wall Street more than 42nd Street, marks the first time an operating Broadway show has been bought out by a corporation, according to an article in Variety.
Cablevision spokesperson Susan Pelcher told Playbill On-Line (July 23) the Frank Wildhorn/Nan Knighton musical will continue its Broadway run for the foreseeable future. There are no immediate plans to tape The Scarlet Pimpernel show for cable TV.
Cablevision and Forstmann, one of Pimpernel's producers, bought the musical from its three other original backers Pierre Cossette, Bill Haber, and Kathleen Raitt, and thus control all stage and broadcast rights to the show. Cablevision has, in recent years, expanded its interests in live entertainment. In late 1997, it bought the company that owns Radio City Music Hall. It is also the force behind the annual and lucrative Madison Square Garden productions of A Christmas Carol and The Wizard of Oz, and co-producer of the upcoming Broadway musical Footloose.
"This is part of our commitment to develop and expand the very best in live and televised entertainment, Pelcher said. "Combined with our distribution resources and marketing potential we can work the develop the show."
Cablevision -- which owns interests in the Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports New York -- boasts 2.6 million New York area cable customers. Marc Lustgarten, chairman of the board of MSG and vice-chairman and director of Cablevision, suggested that Cablevision customers might be offered "bundled" discount deals for entertainment and live events, and may be able to buy tickets through Cablevision's electronics chain Nobody Beats the Wiz.
As for the Broadway production's immediate future, "It will continue it's run," said Pelcher.
The impetus behind the sudden change in ownership is unclear, but one reason could be the show's box-office status. Since opening last November to mixed reviews, the show has struggled to find an audience. Variety reported the show is losing $100,000 per week.
When asked the reasons behind the takeover, Raitt told Playbill On-Line (July 23), "Ted Furstmann and [Madison Square Garden CEO and president] David Checketts decided they could take [the show] to the next step."
The new ownership deal is a 50-50 split between Forstmann and Cablevision; Raitt, Cossette and Haber are no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of Pimpernel.