Though the current, media-made buzz over a Princess Diana musical seems specious at best, there very definitely is a royal family musical on the horizons. It's Only A Kingdom, about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson).
This musical has no connection (other than subject matter) with Always, the William May /Jason Sprague musical that opened in London in June 1997. Kingdom premiered Oct. 10 at Roanoke, VA's Mill Mountain Theatre, then played at Winston-Salem, NC's Stevens Center, Nov. 12-16. The producers are currently looking at several regional venues for a pre-Broadway run, with CA's Pasadena Playhouse the most likely candidate come spring 1998.
Only A Kingdom tells of the king who, after 325 days on his throne, abdicated to marry Amermican divorcee, Simpson. Called "The love affair of the century," this romance didn't sit well with the royal family, who joined with the church in condemning the union and spurring on the king's abdication. On the positive side, Edward and Wallis became world travelers and well-liked, unofficial ambassadors.
Author and composer Judith Shubow Steir has never had a musical produced but has studied with Boston composer Henry Lasker. Producing the show are Steir's daughter, Vivian Rabin, Marvin A. Krauss and Robert T. Kuss. According to Mill Mountain spokesperson Michelle S. Bennett, it was Kuss' idea to do a show on the Simpsons after Steir approached him with her first, as-yet-unproduced musical.
Songs in Only A Kingdom include "The Moment," "You Can't Be Too Rich Or Too Thin," "It's So Difficult To Please A Queen" (performed by Winston Churchill(!) and "Home Is Where The Duchess Is." Mill Mountain spokesperson Michelle S. Bennett confirmed, that Kingdom stars Crista Moore (Big, Gypsy) and David Staller, as Wallis and Edward. Michael Larsen is directing the piece, which features choreography by Donald Saddler.
Also starring in the production as hostess Elsa Maxwell is Sally Struthers, formerly on Broadway in Grease!, Wally's Cafe and the gender-bent Odd Couple. Struthers is best known for playing Gloria on CBS-TV's classic sitcom, "All In The Family" and will soon go into the national tour of Annie, taking over for Nell Carter.
Other performers include Jo Ann Cunningham (Queen Mary), George Merner (Churchill), David Pursley (George, Lord Bellimore), Monica W. Wemitt (Bessie Merriman, Wallis' aunt), Drew Geraci, Keith Anderson, John Wilkerson, Cynthia Marty and Jeff Murphy. Merner played Churchill in the solo, Winnie.
Cunningham told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 11), "The show went very well in Roanoke & Winston Salem, and Sally [Struthers} is committed to doing it elsewhere. It's a total romance, with the political events surrounding the abdication giving a glimpse into the government, too. I'm part of the `tragic relief!', because Elsa Maxwell is comic and the leads are the romance." Cunningham is currently Off-Broadway in a New York Theatre revue featuring the songs (and personages) of Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt.
Designing Kingdom are Connie Furr (costumes), Mill Mountain resident designer John Sailer [pronounced sy'-ler] (set/lighting), and Stage Sound (sound).
-- By David Lefkowitz