Producers Barry and Fran Weissler gave the theatre community a jolt this week when they announced plans for the tenth anniversary celebration of their revival of Kander and Ebb's Chicago. Are we all truly a decade older? Has Encores! been around for around that long? And has Ben Brantley really been chief critic of the Times for almost as long as Frank Rich?
But, it's true. We've seen 4,000 dawns and change since the Weisslers moved the Encores! production of the tuneful, amoral vaudeville to the Richard Rodgers in fall 1996, won over all the critics and, later, most of the Tony voters. Two theatres (the Shubert and current Ambassador) and countless Roxies, Velmas, Billys, Mamas and Amoses later, it's still here. All hail the Red, White and Black (the famed color scheme, don't you know)!
Nov. 14 will be the Weisslers' moment to shine. To make sure that night's audience remembers what they first liked back during Clinton's second term, they've invited back the show's original fearsome fivesome: Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton, Joel Grey and Marcia Lewis. All five were arguably never better than they were in that show, and all five have strangely and sadly made precious few stage appearances since.
Their presence will be perhaps hard news for the event's other invitees, all of whom have tried to match the quintet's level of achievement in years gone by. Nonetheless, former cast member due to make a return appearance include: Brooke Shields, Wayne Brady, Patrick Swayze, Marilu Henner, Huey Lewis, Gregory Harrison, Alan Thicke and Melanie Griffith (betcha thought you'd never see her again). Tony-winning director Walter Bobbie—who, like his producers and his stars, reached a pinnacle with the revival—will helm the one-night-only event.
*** The Kander and Ebb news this week wasn’t just about looking back. The duo's long-in-development musical Curtains finally saw the light of day July 25 when it began performances at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre. The production stars David Hyde Pierce and Debra Monk with Karen Ziemba, Jason Danieley, Jill Paice and Edward Hibbert. Scott Ellis directs. The show is expected to continue on to Broadway where, no doubt, Chicago will still be playing.
Another songwriting team, that of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, will also soon have a new production on Broadway. The Les Miz creators will see their new swashbuckling slice of Irish history, The Pirate Queen, play Broadway's Hilton Theatre in spring 2007, following its world premiere engagement in Chicago this fall, it was announced.
Frank Galati directs the cast, which features Stephanie J. Block, Hadley Fraser, Linda Balgord, Marcus Chait, Jeff McCarthy and William Youmans. If you're asking yourself "Why Irish?," consider that the show was commissioned and produced by Riverdance's Moya Doherty and John McColgan. The musical is based upon the novel "Grania-She King of the Irish Seas" by Morgan Llywelyn. Let's be thankful they didn't name the show after the book.
More Broadway news. The new version of the Gershwins' opera Porgy and Bess, to be staged at London's Savoy Theatre later this year, will come to Broadway. Adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn (why do I always get nervous when I see that a supposed classic of theatre literature has been newly "adapted"?), it will open in London Nov. 9 following previews that begin Oct. 25. No details concerning a Broadway theatre or dates have been mentioned. It will be the first Porgy to reach Broadway in more than 30 years.
And finally, for a change, more Broadway news. Casting for the La Jolla Playhouse's production of The Wiz — directed by Jersey Boys' Des McAnuff and very likely aimed at the Rialto — was announced. Former talk-show host Wayne Brady and stage and screen star David Alan Grier will be among the cast. Brady, who made his Broadway debut in Chicago, will play the Scarecrow, while Grier will star in the title role. The cast will also include Nikki M. James as Dorothy, Titus Burgess as the Lion, Michael Benjamin Washington as the Tinman, E. Faye Butler as the wicked witch Evillene, Orville Mendoza as Uncle Henry, Valarie Pettiford as Glinda and Aunt Em and Heather Lee as Addaperle. Oh, and Albert Blaise will play Toto.
This one's not a new adaptation, by the way. It’s a "re-imagining." If you discover the difference between the two, that'll make one of us.