William Inge's gloomy 1950 portrait of a marriage on the rocks, Come Back, Little Sheba, was made into a musical called Sheba in 1973, but the show never made it beyond its tryout in Chicago — until now.
Almost 30 years later, Sheba, the obscure musical by composer Clint Ballard and librettist-lyricist Lee Goldsmith, will resurface in a full revival starring Donna McKechnie as Lola at The White Barn Theatre in Westport, CT, Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
In a new producing arrangement this summer, the White Barn — founded by the late Lucille Lortel, the so-called "Queen of Off-Broadway" who embraced new and foreign works in her long career — is mounting full Actors' Equity productions of works in four-performance runs. They are fully designed stagings in the 148-seat house.
The musical, like the play, tells of Lola (McKechnie), "a frumpy, neglected housewife, and Doc, played by Mark Peters, a couple who experience a deep-seated frustration in their marriage," according to press notes. Lola and Doc married reluctantly after they had an indiscreet affair. As a result, he gave up his medical studies, forfeited all hopes of the future, settled down to dull life and became an alcoholic. When an attractive, young female boarder comes to live with them, the couple is brought to a dramatic change in their dull and unhappy lives. Sheba is a dog that ran away years ago.
As of Aug. 28, the Friday performance was sold out, and tickets were tight for Friday and Saturday, a spokesperson said. Curious New Yorkers and musical buffs are making the pilgrimage. McKechnie won a Tony Award for A Chorus Line and has also appeared in How to Succeed in Business..., Company, Promises, Promises and State Fair on Broadway.
Leslie B. Cutler directs, with choreography by Tony Award winner Donald Saddler. Original orchestrations, which were stored away for years, are by Ralph Burns, with musical direction by Glen Clugston. The White Barn cast also includes Rachel Hardin, Braden Miles, Alden Fulcomer, Billy Hartung, Thomas J. Miller, Don Rey, plus a six-piece orchestra.
In 1973, Sheba, starring Kaye Ballard (no relation to Clint), had a short run in Chicago, then disappeared from production. Goldsmith secured the rights to the play shortly before the suicide death of Inge. Clugston was the original musical director. Designers are Leo B. Meyer (set and lighting) and Catherine Hampton (costumes).
Goldsmith is an obscure craftsman, a contemporary of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote lyrics for a number of works targeted for Broadway. Cirmcumstances thwarted planned Broadway productions of his Shine and Chaplin, both with composer Roger Anderson, in the early 1980s. In 1993, however, Chaplin (with a book by Ernest Kinoy) resurfaced in a Miami staging that would win a South Florida Carbonell Award. A Sarasota staging is currently at The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, to Sept. 2. Commercial producer Paul Bartz is shopping the show around. Shine, with a book by Richard Seff, based on the stories and characters of Horatio Alger, received two readings in Manhattan since 1998 and a demo is being developed toward the goal of regional productions of the family-friendly musical.
In recent years, another musical titled Sheba has emerged, focusing on The Queen of Sheba.
Tickets are $30-$35. Performances are 8 PM Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 4 PM Saturday. The Sept. 2 show includes a post-performance reception. Lucille Lortel's White Barn Theatre is on Newtown Avenue in Westport, CT. For information, directions, and tickets, visit the website at whitebarntheatre.org or call the box office at (203) 227-3768.
— By Kenneth Jones