A revival of Jerry Herman's Mack & Mabel will open Jan. 10, 2002, at a Broadway theatre to be announced, a spokesperson for producer Jon Wilner told Playbill On-Line.
Wilner had hoped to present the revised version of the 1974 cult hit in spring 2001, and even announced an opening and rehearsal dates, but a theatre was not available, so he bumped the musical comedy to the 2001 2002 season. Previews are expected to begin in late 2001, and Wilner said last March he hopes Donna McKechnie, Douglas Sills and Jane Krakowski or Caroline O'Connor will star. No casting has been announced.
Famed clown Bill Irwin (Fool Moon) is attached as a special movement director for the Mack Sennett comedy sequences in the tuner about the relationship between silent screen star Mabel Normand and director Mack Sennett.
Because Krakowski's TV filming schedule ("Ally McBeal") may prevent her from playing Mabel, Wilner said he plans to put British actress Caroline O'Connor — who appeared as Mabel in Wilner's 1995 London mounting of M&M — on Broadway come fall.
Wilner said he was reluctant to put the show up in the summer, even if a space opens. "After the Tony nominations, nobody cares about your show," he said. "I've been working on doing this show here for 14 years — does six more months really matter?" With all due respect to the performers, Wilner said, "The only thing I learned in London is that, ultimately, the score is the star of the show."
In the previous spring 2001 plan, Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) was to play filmmaker Mack Sennett, Jane Krakowski Mabel Normand and McKechnie their brassy cohort. All three actors appeared in the 2000 concert version mounted by Reprise!, the popular musical theatre concert series in L.A.
In the Broadway revival, mime and movement artist Bill Irwin will stage the silent Mack Sennett sequences — live pieces that are inspired by Sennett comedies. Dan Siretta is the choreographer of the musical numbers.
Wilner previously produced an award-winning version of the show in London in 1995, and the Broadway staging would be a hybrid of various rewrites of the piece, including changes made for L.A. by Francine Pascal, sister of the show's late book writer, Michael Stewart. Wilner told Playbill On-Line that a splashy revival of Stewart and Pascal's George M! is on his plate for the future.
Sills became a sensation in the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Krakowksi is the theatre actress (Grand Hotel, Starlight Express) who found wider fame on TV's "Ally McBeal," and McKechnie is the theatre legend who rose from the chorus to shine in the glory of A Chorus Line. When a spring date for Mack & Mabel fell through, Sills committed to the South Coast Repertory Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing.
When originally staged in 1974 with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the show was knocked for having a score that was at odds with the dark subject matter — mostly sunny songs mixed with a tempestuous relationship between the title characters that ends with the death of Mabel.
Wilner said the storytelling has been solved and the show is now a musical comedy that better mirrors the real story. "We're not dark," he said. "Francine went back to the true story. I'd put this Mack and Mabel book next to any book for a musical. The framework is Michael Stewart and 75 percent of the book is now Francine."
Although the genesis of this planned Broadway staging is the L.A. concert, Wilner said the production will be a fully-staged show, not a concert version. The orchestra will be on stage, however. Arthur Allan Seidelman, who directed in L.A., will helm on Broadway.
Wilner, the longtime ad executive who previously produced An Evening With Jerry Herman and Groucho, said his "first choice" for costume designer would be Florence Klotz.
What attracted Wilner to the project from the beginning is what keeps fans attached to the show: "The score!" said Wilner. "It deserves a chance."
In 1974, the Gower Champion-directed musical had a 66 performance run on Broadway (and a brief tour a few years later), but a cast album achieved cult status and spawned such cabaret and concert standards as "Time Heals Everything," "Tap Your Troubles Away" and "I Won't Send Roses." A song from the London version will be added. It's called "Mabel and Mack."
Hopes for a revised revival on Broadway came and went over the years, and stock productions with revisions were staged, but nothing moved to a larger arena.
— By Kenneth Jones