“There are places I remember/all my life/though some have changed/Some forever, some for better/Some have gone/and some remain.”
Taking those lyrics from Lennon-McCartney’s “In My Life” to heart will be a new play by Alexander Marshall, now in development for a Broadway mounting in October 2001. As reported by the Daily News, Marshall, a two time Emmy winner, is scripting John Lennon: And In the End... with an eye toward opening in October 2001 or even, if possible, Oct. 9, 2001 — which would have been the singer-songwriter’s 61st birthday.
Attorney Peter Koulouris and literary agent Donald C. Farber are producing the piece, which is capitalized at $1.75 million and is hoping for a 1,000-1,100 seat Broadway house. The plan is to start directly on Broadway, then go to London and international venues.
Though scripted as a one-man show without any Beatles music, Lennon will apparently feature stage effects and “lots of bells and whistles,” according to author Marshall. Casting will be done in New York and London, and a director has yet to be announced.
“The play begins with the moment of Lennon’s murder,” producer Koulouris told Playbill On-Line (Oct. 12), “as he lay dying at the gates of the Dakota. He saw his life pass before him, and the life he sees is the story he tells. He discusses and comments on his life. The play uses a non-linear, disjunctive but very entertaining and interesting device to talk about Lennon’s life in a way that’s fresh and creative and interesting. We want to capture the imagination of the theatregoing public and non-traditional theatregoing public. This play is being produced with love. I mean that. Everybody involved is treating this project with love. John Lennon was a brilliant artist, a genius, a very lofty subject — so this play has to have the production values, the story, to match. You’ve seen those bumper stickers, `What would Jesus do?’ Well, our motto is “What would John do if he were doing this play. What would he want?” That said, Koulouris is less concerned with what Lennon’s widow and the surviving Beatles would or wouldn’t want; the producers aren’t legally required to ask permission of Yoko Ono or anyone else involved in Lennon’s life to do the piece. “The right of publicity that one has doesn’t survive one’s death,” Koulouris said. “The first amendment allows us to do this. And as far as Yoko is concerned, no comment.”
Asked why John Lennon would eschew using Lennon’s music, Koulouris said, “This is a dramatic play. Any music would be incidental to the story. But we won’t comment on the music we’re using at this time.
“My main motivation in producing this play,” said Koulouris, “is that I never want that murderer [Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman] see the light of day. I hope this play shines a light on that cockroach. I still don’t understand the possibility of his parole. This man should rot in hell. It was a slam-dunk issue when his parole was denied a couple of days ago. But in two more years, he’s up for it again. If we open the show in a year and we’re still running a year later — the good lord willing and the creek don’t rise — it would be much more difficult for this guy to get out. And for him to claim that Lennon would’ve wanted to set him free! That’s the misstatement of the year. It just boggles my mind. I want people to remember the loss of life. Not just the music. He was the father of two boys, a husband. Someone meaningful to the lives of millions.”
Asked how he and Farber (one of the original architects in putting The Fantasticks up Off Broadway) picked Marshall for the commission to write the play, Koulouris said, “He was recommended to me by someone, and when I met him, I realized he can write, and also that he was a huge Lennon and Beatles fan to begin with. That was a necessary ingredient. Sandy [i.e., Alexander Marshall] interviewed many, many associates of Lennon. He walked the same routes to school that Lennon walked when he was a child. He’s the right guy for all of those reasons.”
For his part, author Marshall feels it’s important to get the Lennon story right. “So much of the information out there is contradictory,” Marshall told Playbill On-Line. “Yoko believes in revisionist history... They both had a bit of that. They revised things they did or said and made it their `statement.’ Both Ono and Albert Goldman had some facts wrong. You gotta take it [sic] with a grain of salt. Or Cynthia Lennon, who was married to John. You’d think her book, `A Twist of Lennon,’ would have been very accurate. But she gets her wedding date wrong! She gets things out of sequence. She has them traveling from city to city in the wrong order. She misuses the word `salubrious’ two or three times. I don’t mean to talk her down; it’s just that her book was so terribly wrong. Even so, it did have some good information in it, particularly about the visit to the Ashram. Her take on that was a pretty fair one. But what I’m saying is that a lot of people assume she’s the source, and even with her or other books, so much information on John is just outright incorrect. It was a project in itself to get everything right, which I’ve tried so hard to do. Of course, when you see your draft cut down by a third, you say `Oh, but that wonderful research!’ But that’s part of being a writer.”
Marshall’s previous credits include the Off-Broadway play Crazy Arnold (about a TV writer haunted by the ghosts of the Marx Brothers), and work on TV’s “Madhouse Brigade” and the short film, “Revenge of the Sons of the Desert,” both of which won Emmy Awards. Just before staring John Lennon: And in the End..., Marshall had finished Franklin of Philadelphia, a piece on the life of another popular innovator and genius, Ben Franklin. “My wife was amused because I fill my workspace with clips and cards and items of the things I’m working on,” Marshall told Playbill On-Line. “And there was a week or two when the Franklin stuff was mixing with the Lennon.”
Hired for the project April 1, Marshall has completed a full, working draft of John Lennon, following weeks of research and rewrites. “The producers have been amazing,” he said. “It’s been a dream job. They sent me to Liverpool and London. I met with Lennon’s sister, Julia, and Neil Aspinall [current president of Apple]. Also, Rod Davis of the Quarrymen, John’s old group, was a big help. He had a great quote: `Yeah, they replaced me in the group with some guy named McCartney. Whatever happened to him?’) The Quarrymen still get together. In fact, they played at John’s school, which I visited, Quarrybank Grammar School.
“I had a script meeting in California two weeks ago,” continued Marshall, “and I’m working on some changes now — I always overwrite a first draft. I imagine all writers do. We’ve cut a bit of it, so it’s taking shape.”
Structurally, John Lennon starts with the fatal shooting and then follows the Kubler-Ross five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. “His life is flashing before his eyes and the audience’s eyes,” Marshall told Playbill On-Line. “And there are rather spectacular things going on onstage... Though it’s not a musical, there are a lot of bells and whistles in the production.”
-- By David Lefkowitz