While the new Astaire-and-Rogers-inspired musical, Never Gonna Dance, has cast relative unknowns in its two lead parts, it has drafted a celebrity of sorts in the form of co producer Edgar Bronfman, Jr.
Bronfman will join producers Jay Harris/Weissberger Theater Group, Ted Hartley and RKO Pictures Corp. The heir to the Seagram's fortune has made headlines in recent years as the vice chairman of Hollywood's Vivendi Universal studio.
Never Gonna Dance is not Bronfman's first foray into theatre. Before he ventured into films, the mogul produced Ladies of the Alamo by Paul Zindel and Broadway, Broadway by Terrence McNally, both of 1977. Harris served as Bronfman's lawyer on those projects, while fellow Dance producer James Walsh acted as general manager.
Never Gonna Dance is based on the classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, "Swing Time" (1936). It will likely play one out-of-town engagement before heading for Broadway, Harris told Playbill On-Line. The ultimate goal remains the 2002-03 Broadway season; no theatre or dates have been set.
As previously reported by PBOL, Michael Greif will direct and Jerry Mitchell will choreograph. Both were on hand last fall when the tuner, titled after the original working title of "Swing Time," was workshopped in Manhattan Nov. 29-Dec. 1. The workshop starred Noah Racey in the Astaire role and Nancy Lemenager (Kiss Me, Kate) in the Rogers part. Harris said future productions will probably star the same two actors. Also featured in the workshop were Peter Bartlett as the owner of Penny's dance studio and David Pittu as bandleader Ricardo.
The show is close to signing on its design team. If all works out, Grief and Mitchell will be working with set designer David Gallo, costumer William Ivey Long and lighting designer Ken Posner. No contracts had been signed at press time.
Harris is producing the show with the Weissberger Theater Group, Ted Hartley and RKO Pictures Corporation.
Harris previously told Playbill On-Line that he started pursuing the rights to the old RKO film, which boasts a score by Jerome Kern, seven years ago. Jeffrey Hatcher (Work Song, Three Viewings) was taken on as bookwriter a little over two years ago; Greif (Rent) was hired as director in the summer of 2000; and Mitchell (The Full Monty) was enlisted as choreographer six months ago.
Along with "Shall We Dance?," "Swing Time" is considered the best of the Astaire-Rogers dance musicals of the 1930s. George Stevens, who would go on to create "A Place in the Sun" and "Shane," directed. The story concerns John "Lucky" Garnett (Astaire), a hoofer who, in order to prove his worthiness to the father of the girl he wants to marry, goes to the city to earn his fortune. Once there, he meets Penny Carroll, a dancing instructor. They form a successful dancing act and fall in love. But their romance is threatened by the return of Lucky's old girl and the interference of Penny's admirer, the latin band leader Ricardo Romero.
Never Gonna Dance will use songs from the movie's score—which included "A Fine Romance," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Never Gonna Dance" and "Bojangles of Harlem"—as well as music from other sources. Among those providing lyrics to Kern's tunes are Dorothy Fields, Ira Gershwin, Otto Harbach, Johnny Mercer, Oscar Hammerstein II and P.G. Wodehouse. Other tunes to be used include "I'm Old Fashioned," "The Song Is You," "I Won't Dance," and "Dearly Beloved."
Mitchell would seem to have the hardest assignment in a show drawn from an Astaire film. Asked whether the choreography would ape Astaire's famous footwork or chart a completely different direction, Harris said the steps would "judiciously suggest the dancing of the '30s, but Mitchell will do his own creations. It certainly will be derivative of Fred Astaire, but derivative of others, too. It will be creatively derivative and creatively creative. Looking at the dancing, I wouldn't be able to tell which step was Fred's and which exactly was Jerry's."