The composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa, who wrote John & Jen and new tunes for the current Broadway revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, confirmed that Manhattan Theatre Club is workshopping his new musical, The Wild Party, Apr. 12-May 24, with director Gabriel Barre and Mark Dendy aboard as director and choreographer.
An MTC spokesman also confirmed the project.
The six-week test of the mostly sung-through, in-progress musical is one of two “parties” aborning: The Public Theater is developing a Michael John LaChiusa musical drawn from the same source material, Joseph Moncure March’s 1927 narrative poem. LaChiusa’s best-known work is Hello Again, a musical inspired by La Ronde.
The Public’s Wild Party was to begin performances in early February 1999, with a book by director George C. Wolfe and LaChiusa and choreography by Joey McKneely, but has been delayed as the work continues to develop. A workshop at the Public is expected in late February leading to a production, perhaps in May.
on to change or adapt the work. After Lippa’s Off-Broadway musical, John and Jen, was up and running in 1995, Lippa faced one of the great and daunting challenges for a musical theatre writer: Finding source material for a new musical.
Lippa, 34, told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 1) he came across March’s narrative poem while wandering through Barnes & Noble’s poetry section, searching for a story to musicalize. He’d never heard of March’s piece, and did not know the 1975 James Ivory film version of it starring James Coco and Raquel Welch.
“The spine stuck out at me, and I read it, drooling in the aisle,” said Lippa, who saw musical possibilities in it. “It’s a show business story, a dark tale of love gone very wrong.”
Best of all, Lippa discovered that March’s dark yarn about a raucous show business party was in public domain, meaning the copyright had lapsed or not been renewed, which meant he did not need to pay a royalty or get permissi The poem, he said, reads like a script, with a clearly delineated story. Lippa, 34, is writing book, music and lyrics, and said he has created some of his own characters for the story.
He said the story’s focus is a “love quadrangle” with vaudeville performers who are “very two-bit.” The party, thrown by down-and-out characters, happens in real time. They “throw a party rather than kill each other,” he said.
But, he added, “it ends very violently.”
Is there hope? Do any of his characters find “happiness,” the word that is the metaphor of Charlie Brown.
“We’ll see...” said Lippa. “It’s a parable: Beware how much you party.”
Lippa said he’s been witness to certain destructive party behavior in New York City circles and drew on his eyewitness experience of “lack of good judgment” and the constant, mindless “desire to party.”
Lippa’s version is not set in Hollywood, as the film apparently was, but somewhere in the Midwest -- “like St. Louis,” where itinerant vaudevillians may have found themselves stranded.
How much does Lippa know about he LaChiusa project?
“I don’t like to hear about it, I like to focus on what we’re doing,” he said, adding that he and LaChiusa are acquaintances.
Lippa’s Wild Party had previous readings by MTC and the O’Neill Theatre Center in 1997 and then MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow OK’d the workshop.
As is the case with many nonprofits sponsoring readings and workshops, there is never a guarantee of a full production. Casting for the workshop is under way.
Lippa isn’t all that dark: He contributed three new tunes to the Broadway revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, opening at the Ambassador Theatre Feb 4.
“The experience has been blessed, so rare and so beautiful,” he admitted. “I did know a couple of the songs as a kid, ‘Happiness’ and ‘Suppertime’...I music-directed it years ago.”
Lippa, who was raised in the Detroit area, also produced the forthcoming Charlie Brown cast album for RCA/Victor and also scored a new 20 minute theme park musical for Universal Studios in Orlando, FL.
The recorded-voice character show is in Universal’s ’Toon Lagoon, and Lippa wrote for characters such as Betty Boop, Popeye and Bullwinkle, working with classic voice actors June Foray (Rocky the Flying Squirrel) and others.