The long-developing new American musical, The Molly Maguires, had its second of two public readings June 10 in Manhattan, with a cast of 25 performing work honed over a month-long workshop.
Producer Bill Haber, with Kathleen Raitt, presented the workshop of the Irish-influenced Sid Cherry-William Strzempek musical to gauge industry reaction and test a new element to the show: the inclusion of Irish step dancing.
"We're very proud of the workshop we put on," Raitt told Playbill On-Line June 11. "We have some thinking to do about what the next step is." She said it was "too soon to say" whether the musical would be part of the 1999-2000 season.
Riding a wave of interest in all things Irish, the long-aborning musical began a six-week New York City workshop May 3. Readings were June 8 and 10.
The readings were the first chance for producers Haber and Raitt to see the dark musical drama -- about Irish coal miners protesting wages and conditions in 19th-century Pennsylvania -- on its feet with the Irish step dancing, made popular by the stage show, Riverdance. The cast included Jody Ashworth, Jane Bodle, Catherine Brunell, Kristin Carbone, John Dewar, Robert DuSold, Rich Hebert, Jessica Hendy, Ellen Horst, Paul Iacono, Christopher Innvar, John Jellison, Ken Jennings, Robert Jensen, Kathleen Keady, Joanne McHugh, George Merrick, Martin Moran, Gary Moss, Karen Murphy, Erin Pender, Ciaran Sheehan, Erik Stein, Jeff Talbott, Stephen Tewksbury.
Sheehan (Toronto's The Phantom of the Opera) played McKenna, the Pinkerton detective who infiltrates the Molly Maguires, the Irish coal mining subculture violently protesting low wages and unsafe conditions in 1877 Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.
Innvar (A New Brain, Floyd Collins) played Kehoe, the head of the Mollys, Bodle (Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard) played Mary, the widow who falls in love with McKenna, and Martin Moran (Titanic) was the conflicted priest pulled between the church and justice.
Musical numbers in the workshop staging included "The Molly Maguires," "This One Chance," "Passin' Through," "Down, Down," "Whose Turn Now?/Wedding Dance," "Take Another Look," "Father, Tell Me," "Thankin' Franklin Gowen," "Do You Trust Him?," "Brothers," "One More Ton," "Watching and Waiting," "An Eye for an Eye," "There's a Wind Comin' In," "Hey, McKenna," "The Man I Know," "If That's the Way They Want It," "Love Will."
Dan Foster directed, Joey McKneely choreographed and the Irish step consultant was Riverdance alum Kevin McCormack.
Set designer Eugene Lee and costume designer Santo Loquasto are lined up to handle their duties if and when a Broadway staging is green-lighted.
Raitt told Playbill On-Line May 4 that the fact-based script was submitted to partner Haber last year and the producers were knocked out by the award-winning libretto by Strzempek and score by Cherry.
Insiders say several million dollars are in place for a production, and that a target date of St. Patrick's Day 2000 was rumored prior to the readings.
Begun in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop as early as 1990, the show has gone through many readings and workshops. Strzempek won the Ed Kleban Award for outstanding libretto for the project and Cherry was nominated for the BMI Jerry Bock Award for best score.
The project won a Richard Rodgers Development Grant which provided workshop money for an Off-Broadway staging. In October 1992 a full length version was presented in a series of staged readings at Playwrights Horizons.
The workshop itself is produced by Haber and Ostar.
"It's a serious musical that has wonderfully joyful, honest moments in it," Raitt said in May. "The Irish always seem to have an indomitable spirit."
The story is also the basis of the 1970 Martin Ritt-directed film starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris. Although the subject matter is dark, "there's a love story and a small child who is the catalyst in humanizing the leading man," said Raitt.
"[Employees] lived in company quarters and had to buy from the company store," said Raitt. "They were given scrip instead of money. The Molly Maguires were the frontrunners of the coalminers' union."
The Molly Maguires is not a pop-rock musical, but it does have pop elements, Raitt suggested. "It's a real, honest-to-God book musical," she said. "That's what's so attractive about it."
Raitt said although the show did have a small and popular staging that played two theatres in Milton and Media, PA., outside Philadelphia, in 1996, the collaborators have not had major shows produced in the past. If it appears on Broadway, as hoped, in spring 2000, it would be the writers' major debut.
Raitt's producing credits include The Scarlet Pimpernel with Haber and Pierre Cossette and The Civil War with Cossette and Pace. Haber's producing resume includes Titanic, The Iceman Cometh, Freak and more.
Coincidentally, The Molly Maguires will have some Irish competition if it does emerge in early 2000: The dance sensation, Riverdance, is booked into the Gershwin Theatre for a limited engagement in the first months of 2000.
-- By Kenneth Jones