Pass the Borscht! Musical Grossingers Opens in TX

News   Pass the Borscht! Musical Grossingers Opens in TX Ruta Lee and Gavin MacLeod star in the world premiere engagement of Grossinger's, a musical about the famed Catskill Mountains resort and the woman who created it, at Fort Worth, TX's Casa Manana Theatre.
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Ruta Lee and Gavin MacLeod star in the world premiere engagement of Grossinger's, a musical about the famed Catskill Mountains resort and the woman who created it, at Fort Worth, TX's Casa Manana Theatre.

With music by Claibe Richardson, book by Stephen Cole and lyrics by Cole and Ronny Graham, the production is conceived and directed by Bruce Lumpkin, running through June 5.

Richardson is best known for the Broadway score The Grass Harp which showcased Barbara Cook. Cook's version of the song Chain of Love is part of the Metropolitan Opera Guild's CD collection, "100 Years of the American Musical Theatre." Richardson has written incidental scores for a Broadway revival of The Royal Family, and The Curse of an Aching Heart starring Faye Dunaway.

Ruta Lee portrays Jennie Grossinger, who transformed her family's failing 100 acre farm into a boarding house, and eventually into the legendary 1950s playground for grownups, just two hours north of New York City. While treating her guests like family, Jennie neglects those closest to her.

Appearing at Casa Manana for more than 20 seasons, Lee has starred as American musical heroines such as Dolly Levi, Mame Dennis, Molly Brown, and Mama Rose. Lee's film work includes, Witness for the Prosecution, Marjorie Morningstar, Funny Face Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and more recently the 1995 Funny Bones, with Jerry Lewis. Lee has guest starred more than 2,000 times on television programs, and currently co-hosts her own "Talk of the Town," a syndicated cable interview show in which Lee chats with celebrities all over the globe. Debbie Reynolds, a close friend of Lee's, was also close with the real Jennie Grossinger. The production quotes Reynolds saying of Grossinger, "Jennie was an extroadinary woman, a Pearl Mesta with the quality of Mother Theresa. . .She was like a mother to me. She was magical and I loved her."

Gavon MacLeod plays Jennie's best friend, Sheldon Seltzer. Although MacLeod is best remembered for his long stint on TV as "The Love Boat's" Captain Stubing (and before that, an acerbic news writer on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show,") he has had an extensive career in theatre and musicals. He made his Broadway debut in A Hatful of Rain. He made his Casa Manana debut in 1995 as Daddy Warbucks in the regional premiere of Annie Warbucks.

Grossinger's was originally presented in 1996 as a staged reading at Off-Broadway's York Theatre Company, starring Tovah Feldshuh.

Lyricist and librettist Stephen Cole has written several musicals, including two recent Texas productions--Dodsworth starring Hal Linden, Beth McVey and Dee Hoty, at Casa Manana, and After the Fair at Lyric Stage this past February. He is currently working on a new musical with Claibe Richardson called The Night of the Hunter, and his new work Time After Time with music by Jeffrey Saver is expected to premiere in Casa's 1998 season.

Asked by Texas critic Rita Faye Smith (of This Month ON STAGE magazine) which came first, the lyrics or the music, Richardson replied, "Sometimes I write the music first, and other times, Stephen writes the words first. Sometimes we write them together -- a few words, then a few bars of music and back and forth until we finish the song."

Ronny Graham has written and acted in several Mel Brooks films, and the Television series "M*A*S*H." He was nominated for a Tony Award for Bravo Giovanni.

Director Bruce Limpkin conceived Grossinger's, and his 10 previous Casa musical staging credits include Dodsworth. In his long association with Tommy Tune, he has collaborated on Grand Hotel, Stepping Out and Nine.

Although a press release for the production labels Grossinger's as a "pre-Broadway" engagement, Casa Manana spokesperson Holly N. Ellman said, "They are working on that. . .there is nothing definitive yet." Producers from around the country have been invited to attend the May 24 gala press opening.

For tickets or more information, please call (817) 332-2272, or refer to the Casa Manana regional listing on Playbill On-Line.

--By Blair Glaser and David Lefkowitz

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