The Overture Theatre Company, a new Manhattan nonprofit devoted to developing new musicals, began rehearsals for a workshop of its first project, Femme Fatale, Feb. 7, and 10 presentations of the tuner are scheduled Feb. 23-March 4.
Producing director and founder Harve Brosten, who produced Olympus on My Mind Off-Broadway and Romance/Romance on Broadway and off, has been attached to Femme Fatale since lyricist-librettist-director Barry Harman came up with the idea of a musical version of the Victorian potboiler, "The Haunted Hotel," by Wilkie Collins.
Harman wrote Romance/Romance with Keith Herrmann and the pair reunite for the "Haunted Hotel" rewrite, Femme Fatale. Harman directs and Herrmann musical directs an all-female cast, including Anne Bobby, Mindy Cooper, Ellen Foley, Teri Gibson, Priscilla Lopez, Cindy Marchionda, Jan Maxwell, Janet Metz, Christiane Noll, Darcy Pulliam, Sara Ramirez and Natalie Toro.
The "radical creative change" of an all-women cast, with actresses playing the male and female roles, was chosen in fall 1999, a year after the script was staged (as The Haunted Hotel) with a coed, professional cast at Cazenovia College, near Syracuse.
The novella by Collins, who was a contemporary of Dickens and is known for "The Moonstone," concerns La Contessa Narona, whose husbands mysteriously die. Her brother is somehow involved with her in the serial crimes. "What causes her to be in league with her brother is part of the subtext of the piece," Brosten told Playbill On-Line. "Elements of incest and abuse exist. This is against the framework of the other characters, the wives of other characters, and the context of Victorian England, when women had no power."
Doing a piece by proven writers, who are friends and colleagues of Brosten's, is a way to bring attention to the new company, but Brosten said the work of many writers will be considered in the future. He also hopes to have his own theatre space one day. The new startup recalls early days of The Drama Dept., which began with readings and graduated to full productions in a home venue in New York City.
"I wanted to attract as much attention as possible to the kind of work we hope to do," said Brosten. "I hope this workshop presentation will lead to other workshops of this piece...and finally a full production."
The presentations Feb. 23-March 4 are part of the development of the show. There is no outside producer or money attached to Femme Fatale yet, Brosten said.
The company and this workshop (technically, a "special development agreement" with Actors' Equity) were funded by small donations -- and Brosten borrowed from his life insurance.
Next up for the company, in fall 2000, is a new musical, Long Road Home, by composer Kathy Sommer and lyricist-librettist Harman. Sommer was musical director of Romance/Romance in New York. Pop singer Darlene Love is attached as the star, playing a singer making a comeback after spousal and alcohol abuse. It's billed as "a southern blues pop musical" and has had a couple of readings in the past year.
Brosten, who, like Harman and Herrmann, was Tony Award-nominated for 1988's Romance/Romance, wants to nurture what he calls "intelligent musicals" in an Overture subscription season. Harman serves as artistic director.
In a note to potential supporters, Brosten said the company was mulling presenting a revised version of Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's Carmelina (with a book by Joseph Stein) and a new revue of songs by women writers, tentatively called Where Am I Going?.
The workshop of Femme Fatale is for industry people interested in the show or the company. It will be performed at American Ballet Theatre studios, 890 Broadway at 19th Street.
For additional information, call (212) 462-3190 e-mail OvertureTheatre@aol.com.
Lyricist-librettist Harman is also working with Olympus composer Grant Sturiale on another musical project, Under Fire, based on Roger Spottiswoode's 1983 film of the same name. The movie teamed Gene Hackman and Nick Nolte as journalists covering the Sandinista uprising in late 1970s Nicaragua. Ron Shelton and Clayton Frohman penned the screenplay.
Under Fire isn't quite ready for readings, Sturiale told Playbill On Line, "but I've been recording demos for the Latin-influenced score. It's a really cool project and we should have it finished this year." Songs are likely to include "I Take Pictures," "Rafael" and "Once You Feel the Fire."
-- By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz