Producer Registers April Bway Opening in Hope of Mack and Mabel

News   Producer Registers April Bway Opening in Hope of Mack and Mabel The revised revival of Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel, embraced in a concert presented in Los Angeles in 2000, will sing and dance on Broadway before the end of the season if a theatre becomes available, producer Jon Wilner told Playbill On-Line.
Donna McKechnie and Douglas Sills will star in Mack and Mabel.
Donna McKechnie and Douglas Sills will star in Mack and Mabel.

The revised revival of Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel, embraced in a concert presented in Los Angeles in 2000, will sing and dance on Broadway before the end of the season if a theatre becomes available, producer Jon Wilner told Playbill On-Line.

Wilner has registered April 23 as an opening night date with the League of American Theatres and Producers and is targeting a March 1 rehearsal start-date. He said he has commitments from Douglas Sills (to play filmmaker Mack Sennett), Jane Krakowski (to play actress Mabel Normand) and Donna McKechnie (as their brassy cohort). All three appeared in the 2000 concert version mounted by Reprise!, the popular musical theatre concert series in L.A.

Additionally, Wilner said, mime and movement artist Bill Irwin will stage the silent Mack Sennett sequences — live pieces that are inspired by Sennett comedies. Dan Siretta is the choreographer of the musical numbers.

Wilner previously produced an award-winning version of the show in London in 1995, and the Broadway staging would be a hybrid of various rewrites of the piece, including changes made for L.A. by Francine Pascal, sister of the show's late book writer, Michael Stewart.

Sills became a sensation in the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Krakowksi is the theatre actress (Grand Hotel, Starlight Express) who found wider fame on TV's "Ally McBeal," and McKechnie is the theatre legend who rose from the chorus to shine in the glory of A Chorus Line. Wilner said it was thought Krakowski's "Ally McBeal" schedule might prohibit her playing Mabel, but they have worked out the complications. When originally staged in 1974 with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the show was knocked for having a score that was at odds with the dark subject matter — mostly sunny songs mixed with a tempestuous relationship between the title characters that ends with the death of Mabel.

Wilner said the storytelling has been solved and the show is now a musical comedy that better mirrors the real story. "We're not dark," he said. "Francine went back to the true story. I'd put this Mack and Mabel book next to any book for a musical. The framework is Michael Stewart and 75 percent of the book is now Francine."

Although the genesis of this hoped-for Broadway staging is the L.A. concert, Wilner said the production will be a fully-staged show, not a concert version. The orchestra will be on stage, however. Arthur Allan Seidelman, who directed in L.A., will helm. Wilner said the money is lined up.

Wilner, the longtime ad executive who previously produced An Evening With Jerry Herman and Groucho, said his "first choice" for costume designer would be Florence Klotz.

What attracted Wilner to the project from the beginning is what keeps fans attached to the show: "The score!" said Wilner. "It deserves a chance."

In 1974, the Gower Champion-directed musical had a 66-performance run on Broadway (and a brief tour a few years later), but a cast album achieved cult status and spawned such cabaret and concert standards as "Time Heals Everything," "Tap Your Troubles Away" and "I Won't Send Roses." A song from the London version will be added. It's called "Mabel and Mack."

Hopes for a revised revival on Broadway came and went over the years, and stock productions with revisions were staged. Wilner and others are still waiting, wondering if the harsh business slowdown of the winter months will push a running Broadway show out into the cold — offering Mack and Mabel a spotlight.

— By Kenneth Jones