"Artistic differences" are to blame for the departure of Bebe Neuwirth from the aborning new John Kander-Fred Ebb musical, Over & Over at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.
With just two weeks before the first performance Jan. 6, 1999, Neuwirth (Chicago, "Cheers") and artistic director Eric Schaeffer parted company Dec. 21 as her role in the new musical became more defined. She was to play Sabina, the salty maid in the show's source material, Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.
Signature managing director Paul Gamble said the loss of Neuwirth in the lead role does not jeopardize the opening or the run of the sold-out show, through Feb. 21.
The part is being recast; an announcement will be made shortly, Gamble told Playbill On-Line.
In a Dec. 23 statement, Schaeffer said "artistic differences" is "that old cliche," but it's the fact of the matter. "This is a new musical," he said in the statement. "It's never been staged before. As with any developmental process, all of us are learning as we go along. Working with Bebe helped us define who Sabina is, and what role her character plays in this really wacky musical. That was an enormous help." Sabina is the maid who caters to the Antrobus family, a clan that survives disasters of Biblical proportions. Wilder's allegory for humanity's resilience first starred Tallulah Bankhead as Sabina. Michele Pawk (Cabaret) played Sabina in an earlier reading of the musical.
Neuwirth most recently appeared as Velma Kelly in the Broadway revival of Chicago -- a role for which she won a Tony Award. She also won a Tony for her appearance in the 1986 Broadway revival of Sweet Charity.
The original run of Over & Over at the 136-seat theatre was to be Jan. 6-Feb. 14, but a one-week extension to Feb. 21 was announced. The 1,000 or so available tickets sold out within 15 minutes of being on sale, according to Gamble.
The company includes Dorothy Loudon, Linda Emond, David Garrison, Jim Newman, Mario Cantone, Megan Lawrence and Sharon Wilkins. The book writer is Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof), the choreography is by Michael Bennett colleague Bob Avian (Dreamgirls).
For Signature information, call (800) 955 5566.
-- By Kenneth Jones