A 1998 concept cast album of the score by the late composer Claibe Richardson and lyricist Stephen Cole spread the word of the show, set in West Virginia. The libretto is by Cole, drawn from Davis Grubb's 1953 novel.
John Bowab directs and produces the new two-week Equity-approved rehearsals that will culminate in three industry readings. Musical director is David Evans (associate conductor of Flower Drum Song). Matthew Ward (himself a composer of After the Fair and Casper, with Stephen Cole) is on piano for the reading.
The cast includes Ron Raines ("Guiding Light") as The Preacher (reprising his concept album work), Beth Fowler (Beauty and the Beast) as Rachel Cooper, Julie Johnson (Das Barbeque) as Willa Harper, Mary Stout (Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast) as Icey Spoon, George Lee Andrews (The Phantom of the Opera) as Walt Spoon, Gordon Joseph Weiss (Ghetto) as Uncle Birdie, Ricky Ashley as John Harper, Jennifer Michelle Brown as Pearl Harper, Brian Noonan as Ben Harper, Tina Johnson (Best Little Whorehouse, Casper) as Miz Cunningham, Gloria Hodes as Nellie, Taylor Giacomo as Ruby, Samantha Meckes as Mary Samantha Blinkas as Clary, with Gregg Goodbrod, G. Shane Peterman and David Lowenstein.
The dark tale is about an ex-con who calls himself The Preacher and comes to the widow Willa Harper, seeking money that her hanged husband hid in a doll that belongs to daughter Pearl. Young son John is suspicious of The Preacher. When The Preacher brings violence to the family, the children flee and end up in the care of widow Rachel Cooper. A final confrontation brings the children to a new and more hopeful place in their lives (at Christmastime, no less).
The novel was made into a classic film noir starring Robert Mitchum as the thug who has the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles. Richardson, who died of cancer in January, had "long harbored an ambition to make a musical of 'The Night of the Hunter,' and after we screened the classic film version and read the incredibly rich novel from which it was derived, we agreed to set to work on musicalizing a piece that was one part thriller, one part religious allegory and two parts heartwarming coming-of-age story," Cole writes in liner notes of the 1998 album.
He told Playbill On-Line: "As soon as I read the novel I knew that this was a musical," Cole told Playbill On-Line. "Despite the obvious thriller aspects of a Preacher killing widows for their money, the story and characters had such depth and warmth. It's really a battle between good and evil. The story is really the battle between this evil man and the little boy he is hunting. And it's a story of the ability of little children to endure and abide. So what we had was an exciting thriller and a warm coming of age story at the same time. The characters just had to sing. Words from the novel jumped out at me and became lyrics and with Claibe's classically country-flavored score it became a music theatre piece unlike others. Claibe, being from the south, knew these people and could make their music soar. We inspired each other to write more than just songs...there are long sequences of music, underscored scenes...songs, almost arias..."
At the time of his death, Richardson knew this 2003 workshop was planned. The piece has been refined over the years, Cole said, as recently 2002. The goal of the readings is to attract producing partners for a future production.
Composer Richardson's best known work is the Broadway musical, The Grass Harp.