Burke Moses, the preening Gaston of Beauty and the Beast, plays the title character in Li'l Abner when that 1956 musical is revived March 26-30 as the second of the three concert-reading "Encores!" presented at City Center.
With a score by the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers team of composer Gene de Paul and lyricist Johnny Mercer, the musical is based on the Al Capp comic strip about life in hillbilly Dogpatch, USA. Moses' ever-lovin' Daisy Mae will be played by Alice Ripley, late of Side Show and even later of Sunset Boulevard; and his mother, Mammy Yokum, will be played by Broadway's original "Miss Daisy," Dana Ivey. Her other half, Pappy Yokum, has gone to Dick Latessa, the Damn Yankees coach and the Pa in The Will Rogers Follies.
In some surprise gender-bending nontraditional casting, the role of Marryin' Sam, originated by the late Stubby Kaye, will be played by Lea DeLaria, the boisterous lady taxi-hack from last summer's On the Town revival.
Dispensing the cartoon villainy and/or monkeyshines will be David Ogden Stiers, formerly of TV's "M*A*S*H" and currently of Broadway's The Last Night of Ballyhoo, as General Bullmoose; Michael Mulheren, who's otherwise aboard Broadway's Titanic, as Earthquake McGoon; Jonathan Freeman, the Tony- nominated maitre d' in the She Loves Me revival, as Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale; Chicago hoofer John Mineo as Evil Eye Fleagle, and Kevin Chamberlin, the gardener in Triumph of Love, as Sen. Jack S. Phogbound.
Plausibly representing hillbilly pulchritude: Cady Huffman, a.k.a. "Ziegfeld favorite" in The Will Rogers Follies as Moonbeam McSwine, and Katie Finneran, the sexy dumb-blonde of Proposals, as Appassionata von Climax. And, in a nostalgia coup, Julie Newmar will reprise her 1959 movie role as Stupefying Jones. Norman Panama and Melvin Frank's musical book adaptation of Al Capp's celebrated hillbilly comic strip is being brought up to '9Os speed by adapter Christopher (Sister Mary Ignatius) Durang and will be directed by another Christopher -- Ashley -- who helmed Bunny Bunny and Jeffrey. The original plot turned on the US government's decision to make an atomic-bomb testing site out of Dogpatch (it being "the most useless place in America and all").
Kathleen Marshall, artistic director for the "Encores!" series, has assigned herself the herculean chore of choreographing the piece. The show's remembered highlight is an exuberant mating ritual called "The Sadie Hawkins Day Ballet".
Li'l Abner, which put in 695 performances at the St. James Theatre, was written by composer Gene de Paul and lyricist Johnny Mercer on the heels of the success of their Oscar-nominated film musical, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers". Their songs include "It's a Typical Day [in Dogpatch, U.S A ]," "If I Had My Druthers," the rousing "Jubilation T. Cornpone," "Namely You," "The Country's In The Very Best of Hands," "Past My Prime," "Rag Off'n the Bush," There's Room Enough for Us," "Progress Is the Root Of All Evil," "What's Good for General Bullmoose," "Unnecessary Town" and "The Matrimonial Stomp."
Peter Palmer, who originated the title role in the 1956 Broadway show and reprised it in the 1959 movie version, will attend the show's opening Thursday, March 26, at 8 PM. There will be five more performances--at 8 PM Friday, Saturday and Monday, 2 PM Saturday and 6:30 PM Sunday.
It is not generally known, but Capp's inspiration for the character of Li'l Abner came from Henry Fonda's performance in 'The Trail of the Lonesome Pine".
-- By Harry Haun