Producer Eric Krebs is serving a slice of Little Ham, the planned Off-Broadway musical, for group-sales people and potential investors 4 PM June 16-17 at the John Houseman Theatre.
The Langston Hughes-inspired musical, billed as "a Harlem Jazzical," has been shepherded by Krebs since 1985, including a brief Off-Broadway tryout in late 2001 that tested the viability of a larger run this coming fall. Previews will begin Sept. 12 at the Houseman, with an opening slated for Sept. 26.
This most recent incarnation of the Dan Owens-Judd Woldin Richard Engquist musical began in an Off-Off-Broadway arrangement by Amas Musical Theatre Nov. 14, 2001, at the 99-seat Hudson Guild Theatre. Krebs gave the show an extension to an Off-Broadway contract to make refinements and offer the press more chances to see it. It closed Jan. 6 after earning encouraging reviews.
The producer initiated the project in 1985 and took it through various drafts, including a 1987 staging at George Street Playhouse in New Jersey.
Unlike other group-sales events, the June 16-17 performances represent the entire show rather than a cutting of it, complete with a five-piece band and most of the 14-member cast from the 2001 show (one performer has since been cast in Hairspray). Krebs is completing capitalization. For information about the June 16-17 presentations, call (212) 967-7079. The John Houseman Theatre is at 450 W. 42nd Street.
Eric Riley will again direct Little Ham. The musical is by Dan Owens (librettist), Judd Woldin (music and lyrics) and Richard Engquist (lyrics). Krebs (Broadway's It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, Electra) told Playbill On-Line Dec. 3, 2001, the Depression-set musical based on the Hughes play of the same name (about the white mob putting pressure on the Harlem numbers racket) is filled with pungent characters typical of the folk who populated works by Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and other Harlem Renaissance writers. Krebs got the rights to the work from the Hughes estate in 1985. Some say the show has am uptown Guys and Dolls feel to it.
"It's fun and funny and warm and beautifully inspired by Langston's characters," Krebs said. "What first attracted me was not the story, which is substantially new by the book writer, Dan Owens. But the characters and language — the warmth, the spirit and energy of the community as Hughes wrote it."
Set in the height of the Harlem Renaissance, the work focuses on the uptown "numbers" games — betting on horses — that allow locals to dream about a better life, and how the games are threatened by a downtown mob. The white mob coerces smooth and witty Harlemite Little Ham into helping them control the games, and squeezing protection money from local businesses. But when he's assigned to rattle Tiny Lee's Beauty Shop, he's stuck between double crossing the mob or the woman he loves, Miss Tiny Lee herself. Krebs calls it a musical comedy fable — the sort of show with tap-dancing gangsters.
Musical direction was by David Alan Bunn, choreography by Leslie Dockery, arrangements and orchestrations by the legendary Luther Henderson. The 2001 cast included Adrian Bailey, Ben Blake, D'Ambrose Boyd, Venida Evans, Carmen Ruby Floyd, Jerry Gallagher, Andre Garner, Danielle Greaves, Julia Lema, Stacey Sargeant, Joy Styles, Lee Summers, Richard Vida and Joe Wilson, Jr.
Designers are Edward T. Gianfrancesco (set), Bernard Grenier (costume) and Richard Latta (lighting).
Arranger-orchestrator Henderson has worked on more than two dozen Broadway productions in various capacities. For Ain't Misbehavin' he was the original pianist as well as orchestrator, arranger and musical supervisor. For Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, he was the musical consultant and arranged several selections. Henderson orchestrated and co-composed Jelly's Last Jam. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1997 for orchestrating Play On!
Composer-lyricist Woldin penned Raisin and lyricist Engquist had a cult-hit with Kuni-Leml.
Capitol Steps: When Bush Comes to Shove is enjoying a summer run at the Houseman Theatre.
— By Kenneth Jones