Barry and Fran Weissler, the unstoppable forces behind audience-pleasers Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun, are behind a February workshop that will further develop the William Finn-Richard Greenberg musical, The Royal Family of Broadway.
Laura Benanti, Carolee Carmello and Tovah Feldshuh are expected to sing in the workshop for the musical adaptation of the George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber comedy, The Royal Family, about an American theatrical clan not unlike the Barrymores. The three-week workshop begins Feb. 7 under the direction of Jerry Zaks, with Scott Wise choreographing.
The valentine to theatre people and the art of unstoppable forces -- "going on," as matriarch Fanny observes in the 1927 play -- had an earlier reading, directed by Zaks, in December 1998. It was previously thought that fall 1999 might be a target date for production, but a decision about the project will be made after the workshop, which is expected to continue to Feb. 23, according to sources.
The original play is about the off-stage drama in the lives of the Cavendishes, whose attributes mirrored the Barrymores and the Drews. The work reportedly angered Ethel Barrymore. Aging stage actress Fanny and farceur brother, Herbert, preside over a family that includes Fanny's stage-star daughter, Julie, wastrel film star son, Tony, and Julie's ingenue daughter, Gwen. The Barrymores and Drews are the obvious models for the characters, although the authors denied the charge.
In the new workshop, Benanti (The Sound of Music) will play Gwen, Carmello (Parade, The Scarlet Pimpernel) will play Julie and Feldshuh (Lend Me a Tenor, Southern Comfort) will play Kitty, the wife of Burt (the newly-named brother of Fanny).
The private workshop reading in Chelsea in December 1998 was a roaring success, according to an insider who called the show, with a libretto by Greenberg, "a genuine book musical." Unlike most of composer-lyricist William Finn's better-known work (Falsettos, A New Brain), The Royal Family is not sung-through, a source told Playbill On-Line.
Playwright Greenberg is the author of Three Days of Rain and Eastern Standard.
The cast for the 1998 reading, which does not necessarily reflect any future casting, included Eileen Heckart as Fanny, Donna Murphy as Julia, Claire Lautier as Gwen, Remak Ramsey as Burt (Fanny's newly-named brother), Reg Rogers as Tony, Howard McGillin as Gil (Julia's love interest), Rick Holmes as Perry (Gwen's love interest), Debra Monk as Kitty (Burt's wife) and Dick Latessa as Oscar (the producer).
Anne Kaufman Schneider, daughter of George S. Kaufman, was present at the December 1998 reading.
At one time, Tommy Tune was attached to the project, which was once called The Royal Family of Broadway.
-- By Kenneth Jones