Take Flight, the aborning new musical about man's fascination with flying, by lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., composer David Shire and librettist Marsha Norman, is expected for production in 2003, producer Marty Bell told Playbill On-Line.
For now, the collaborators are working on the script following a private, informal reading earlier this year. The show explores and celebrates man's need to take risks, through interweaving stories of famous aviators, including the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. Jekyll & Hyde's Christiane Noll performed Earhart in readings at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in July-August 2001.
Jerry Mitchell is director-choreographer for the piece. Kevin Stites (Titanic, On the Town) has been attached as musical director of readings of the show since 2000.
"We're definitely looking at 2003," Bell said. "But I must tell you it is becoming almost impossible to be committed to new voices and new shows without any support from the press and especially the [New York] Times. Unless someone stands up for new work, the whole business is on the verge of becoming Encores! and 1960s and '70s rock albums on the stage. It's the main topic of discussion on the street. Whoops! There goes another theatre composer taking off for Hollywood."
Performers who have sung Take Flight material in readings include Daniel Jenkins, Clarke Thorell, Christiane Noll, Alan Campbell, Brent Barrett, Meg Tolin, John Jellison and others. Asked whether Take Flight might have a regional launch, producer Bell said the production's path isn't clear yet, and the focus is currently on the writing.
Maltby and Shire are the songwriters whose urbane Off Broadway revues, Starting Here, Starting Now and Closer Than Ever, are beloved by fans of the form. Cabaret singers have plucked songs from the shows to present in nightspots around the world. Maltby and Shire also collaborated on the book musicals Baby and Big. Shire has scored motion pictures ("Norma Rae") and Maltby conceived and staged Aint' Misbehavin' and contributed lyrics to Miss Saigon. Maltby co-directed the Tony Award-winner, Fosse.
Bell, a veteran producer who is president of East Egg Entertainment, is one of the producers of Broadway's Sweet Smell of Success and co-producer of Off-Broadway's The Last 5 Years.
Bell expressed his concern — and the concern of his colleagues in the producing community — that critics in New York are resistant to new voices and new ways to approach storytelling, which only discourages new songwriters.
"I don't know where the motivation comes from to work on something for five years when there's no support in the critical community," Bell said. When he started producing he looked for projects that "pushed the form" rather than adhered to it.
"I believe it is the producer's responsibility to take the form to a new place," he said, adding that if he read a script or an idea "that seemed like a musical that had been seen before," he avoided it.
Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on a story some could never have imagined as a musical, was a project Bell championed. It would go on to win the Best Musical Tony Award in 1993.
The critical and the producing communities "are obsessed with the predictable and the well-known," Bell observed.
"What we really need is a champion; someone's gotta stand up and call attention to the new shows, the new writers and to make this important," Bell said. "The importance is gone — the importance of trying to do something new and daring."
— By Kenneth Jones