Cameron Mackintosh originally produced the quirky show — in which students at a girls' school put on a benefit musical based on the Herman Melville novel — in London's West End in 1993. But the work didn't have an American life for years due partly to the fact that the script had a British sensibility to it.
The show by Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye is inspired, in tone, by the 1954 British movie, "The Belles of St. Trinians," about the hijinks at a boarding school that is going broke. Alastair Sim played the headmistress in the picture.
In the musical, Moby Dick! is staged as a fundraiser for the institution, and the headmistress, again, is played by a man ("she" also plays Capt. Ahab).
The production at Seaside Music Theater, at the DBCC Theater Center, marks the professional regional theatre premiere of the latest version of the show, following an adaptation overseen by Music Theater International's (MTI) Russell Ochocki. The revision had a New York City reading in 2003 and the property was then added to the substantial MTI catalog, which also includes Mackintosh's Miss Saigon and Les Miserables.
Ochocki told Playbill.com that since 2003, Moby Dick! has played in high school and community theatres in the U.S. and across Europe. Under the direction of SMT artistic director Lester Malizia, the Florida cast includes several of the original New York workshop cast members, including Kevin Duda (Gardiner), Tory Ross (Esta) and Katie Pees (Ishmael). Also in the cast are Osborn Focht (Ahab/Head), Alexandra Ellis (Queequeg), TJ Moss (Pip), Amanda Bonner (Tashtigo), Mark Catlett (Janitor/Elijah), Rebecca Johnson (Starbuck), Cedric Leiba, Jr. (Daggoo), Laura Oldham (Stubb), Frank Viveros (Father Mapple), John West (Coffin) and Sara Barnes and Chris Gleim in the ensemble.
The creative team includes music director Kevin Wallace, choreographer Kate Gelabert, costume designer Brian O'Keefe, scenic designer Ken Goldstein and lighting designer Andrew J. White.
Here's how SMT characterizes its production: "With a bass-baritone headmistress affectionately nicknamed 'Head' to lead them, a rambunctious class of girls from St. Goodleys Academy stage their own interpretation of Melville's classic tale of a whale to raise the dough to keep their beloved school afloat. With a remarkable score that spoofs the music from Boy Bands, '80s pop, and '50s Do-Wop to Gilbert and Sullivan, Moby Dick will make waves that will have all of Daytona talking."
SMT's DBCC Theater Center Stage is at 1200 W. International Speedway Blvd. For more information, call (386) 252-6200 or (800) 854-5592, or visit www.seasidemusictheater.org.
Ochocki directed the 2003 test readings of the revised script and score and is in charge of developing this property for Music Theatre International, the licensing agent that also handles the Mackintosh-produced Miss Saigon, Tomfoolery, The Fix and the school edition of Les Misérables.
Various drafts of the script and score were consulted for this latest version. The show isn't exactly Americanized, writer Hereward Kaye previously told Playbill.com, but it is made a little more friendly for North American audiences.
Bryan Batt (Cats, Saturday Night Fever, La Cage aux Folles) played headmistress in the 2003 presentation, and is heard on the demo that accompanies the licensed script. A London cast album of the musical preserved the score, which ranges from '50s pop to traditional musical theatre to Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche. The earlier disc doesn't really represent the show now, Kaye said.
The cast can be as small as 10 but could also be tripled to include more, MTI's Ochocki said. At Seaside, a cast of 15 is employed.
Moby Dick! was first seen in a fringey staging in London in 1983 and was more of a late-night revue, at an outdoor jazz festival, Kaye said. A later version was mounted using a donated Venice backdrop, and the idea of a "Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"-like girls' school was introduced (with the idea that very proper girls were presenting Moby Dick at a music festival in Venice).
After a break of five years, Longden contacted Kaye about beefing up the show and making it a full-length musical. Following rewrites and the creation of a demo recording, they shopped their show to a half-dozen producers. The one who took the bait in 1991 was a whale of an impresario — Mackintosh.
A Mackintosh-backed test run in Oxford led to a West End production in 1993. The show ran about five months and had productions in Japan, Germany and elsewhere.
"When we saw that shows like Hairspray and The Producers were getting success, Cameron really thought it was time to unmothball our show," Kaye said of this 2003 renewal of the piece. "Since then, we've done a big job on it. Now we've got a tight show and a tight script."
The Moby Dick! credits are book by Robert Longden, additional material by Hereward Kaye; music by Hereward Kaye and Robert Longden; lyrics by Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye.
Prior to Moby Dick!, Kaye was a musical director, and a singer-songwriter in The Flying Pickets, a liberal a cappella band.
In a note on the MTI demo CD, collaborator Robert Longden writes, "The current Americanization of Moby Dick! The Musical by MTI represents the only true workshops afforded the vast ocean pf material created for the show over the past 20 years. With the continued enthusiasm and nurturing of Cameron Mackintosh, the idea has now finally become a fully integrated musical and potential success story. The rogue musical about the rogue whale with its peculiar history and its catchy score will, we believe, go on to make a big splash in America, and we are proud to play host to its final evolvement."
Founded in 1977, Seaside Music Theater is now in its 29th year as a professional theatre. Recently voted "Florida's Best Professional Theater" by Florida Monthly Magazine, SMT is the largest professional theatre within a 100-mile radius and bills itself as the only major resident musical theatre company in the Southeast.