The songs of the Gershwin brothers fueled the smash Crazy for You, and Berlin's heirs are hoping Let Yourself Go! will make Irving Berlin a Broadway baby all over again. Ludwig told Playbill On-Line that Berlin's daughters contacted him about creating on original show that would use the music and lyrics of their father, who died in 1989. Songs from film and stage projects will be heard in the show, which already has a major producer attached.
"To say I'm flattered is the understatement of the century," Ludwig said by phone from Washington, DC, where two of his new works — Shakespeare in Hollywood at Arena Stage and a revision of Hecht and MacArthur's Twentieth Century at Arlington's Signature Theatre — are currently developing.
"For Crazy for You, I was using just Ira and George, and they wrote about 400 songs together," Ludwig said. "Irving Berlin wrote about 1,400 songs. Needless to say, I don't know all of them — I got to know maybe 150. The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization administers the estate and I read it to them and they like it."
Rob Fisher of Encores! is the musical director of the project. A creative team is being assembled. A first reading is expected in late November or early December in New York.
Let Yourself Go! (the title is drawn from a Berlin song from the Fred Astaire picture, "Follow the Fleet") begins with VJ Day — the day of the allies' victory over Japan in World War II. A man and a woman are seen in uniform, and their fortunes in civilian life are later followed, in a California setting. (Yes, you can expect the song "White Christmas," complete with its lesser-known verse about being stuck in balmy California during the holidays.) As civilians, she aspires to be a singer-dancer in the movies and he attempts to write a musical screenplay.
The show attempts to replicate the tone and qualities of Irving Berlin film musicals such as "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Top Hat," "Follow the Fleet," "Easter Parade," "White Christmas" and "Holiday Inn."
"It's a story with a mistaken identity and a nice twist, but in some sense it's a simple love story — where there is somebody putting on a musical in the background of it in some way," Ludwig said.
The score in the current draft includes such Berlin standards as "Cheek to Cheek," "Change Partners and Dance," "You're Easy to Dance With," "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "You're Just in Love," "I Used to be Color Blind" and more. Ludwig said the score would include 16-20 Berlin songs, including obscure titles — such as "I Say It's Spinach (and the Hell With It)."
No time table is in place for a full production, but given the fact that Crazy for You turned old into gold in 1992 — snagging the Best Musical Tony Award — it's likely that if Ludwig's pieces fit together properly the show won't be on the shelf for long.
Ludwig's works include the Broadway comedy, Moon Over Buffalo, and the libretto to the musical, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.