As reported in November 1999, Joe DiPietro, author of Over the River and Through the Woods and co-author of the revue, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, has started work on a new musical using songs made popular by Elvis Presley. The piece won't be an Elvis biography or impersonation, so much as a concept musical using the songs to tell mini stories.
As of mid-March 2000, DiPietro was “still in the early stages of writing/development,” he wrote to Playbill On-Line, adding that months of work lay ahead, with no news on the project expected until fall 2000 “at the earliest.”
Maxyne Berman Lang, who administers the catalogue of recorded Presley songs for a subdivision of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, thought up the idea. Lang told Playbill On-Line she was thrilled about the project, because "it's a new way to have audiences embrace the songs." Lang told Variety, "Having lived with those songs for so many years, it seemed to me they had a story, a non-Elvis Presley story to tell." According to Variety, Elvis Presley Music has approved of the project.
Librettist DiPietro told Variety he saw the as-yet-untitled Elvis show following the format of the London smash, Mama Mia!, which uses ABBA songs "but doesn't mention ABBA at all. I want the songs [in the Elvis musical] to come from many different voices and situations that you don't expect."
Because the musical, tentatively targeted for Broadway in 2001, is in a "formative stage," Lang declined to mention which songs would be included. Tunes made popular by "The King" include "Love Me Tender, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock" and "Suspicious Minds." DiPietro told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 22, 1999) the musical was still in the "man alone in a room with a piece of paper stage." He did say the show would be in "the musical-comedy tradition" and that he'd start to work on it, in earnest, beginning February 2000.
Even before Elvis enters the building, DiPietro has a full plate. For the past year and a half, courtesy of a commission from the Gershwin Estate, he's been working on adapting and restructuring the musical, Oh, Kay!. Retitled "They All Laughed," the musical recently had a private reading that "went as well as I could have imagined," DiPietro said. Next up will be an industry reading in Manhattan, Jan. 18 & 20. "It's an ensemble piece with four people cast so far (out of ten): Dick Latessa, Mary Beth Piel, Donna English and Tovah Feldshuh," DiPietro told Playbill On-Line.
"The Gershwin Estate gave me the script to read," DiPietro said of the process, "and the book was creaky but the concept was fun. It's about a playboy on Long Island who falls for a bootlegger just as he's set to marry this snooty woman. I made a lot of changes, but the germ of it was very much in the original; I probably stuck to it even more than I thought I would."
DiPietro is also just finishing the first draft of a rewrite of Allegro for the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization. "Definitely a challenging show to redo," said DiPietro.
-- By David Lefkowitz