Before starring in the world premiere of the Kander and Ebb musical, The Visit, at the Goodman Theatre this fall, Tony Award winning actress-dancer Chita Rivera will play "media superstar" Magdelena Monteverde in an American summer tour of Casper the Musical, beginning June 5 at Pittsburgh CLO.
The show is a "totally revised" version of the family musical — based on the ghostly comic book and cartoon character — that played London's West End in 1999. The tuner has been so altered by authors Stephen Cole and David H. Bell and composers Matthew Ward and Henry Marsh that the show is being billed as a world premiere.
Casper is produced by Pittsburgh CLO (Civic Light Opera) June 5-24, and tours to Kansas City Starlight Musicals (July 15-22), Atlanta's Theater of the Stars (July 24-29) and Dallas Summer Musicals (July 31 August 5). Rivera leaves the show after Dallas to start rehearsals on the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Terrence McNally musical, The Visit, opening in the fall at the nonprofit Goodman.
Rivera is the two-time Tony Award-winning Broadway legend who appeared in West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, The Rink, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and the tour of the revival of Chicago, among other shows. She has also been seen in Chita & All That Jazz, a musical celebration of her life in the theatre, a show that, like The Visit, has hopes for a run in New York.
Casper concerns the famed "friendly ghost" and how he "inspires a greedy group of treasure seekers to search no further for the greatest treasure of all…each other," according to an announcement. The CLO website tells the story this way: "Vaporized 50 years earlier during a freak lightning storm, Casper and his three uncles are living a rather uneventful life in the family mansion…until Magdalena Monteverde, former maid turned media celebrity, re-enters their lives. She wants the deed to the house…not because she wants the house, but because she thinks there's a message on the back of the deed that will lead her to 'the greatest treasure of all.' As reality-based TV shows are all the rage, Magdalena hosts a live 'Find the Deed Treasure Hunt' in the 'haunted' mansion, on Halloween. One lucky contestant could win $1 million if they find the deed. During the search for possession of the property between its ghostly inhabitants and those intent on displacing them, young Casper and friends finally find the greatest treasure of all…each other. With a motley group of children, greedy parents, and Casper's Ghostly Trio of uncles to contend with, friendship, loyalty, and affection win out in the end."
The show features "state-of-the art special effects" that suggest ghostly apparitions. David H. Bell also directs and choreographs. Lainie Sakakura co-choreographs. Ned Ginsburg orchestrates. Michael Moricz is musical director-dance arranger.
The cast at Pittsburgh's Benedum Center and beyond includes Chita Rivera as Magdelena Monteverde, Paul Tiesler as Casper, Tim Hartman as Stretch, Jamie Torcellini as Stinkie, LaParee Young as Fatso, Mitchell Jarvis as Donald, Cynthia Thomas as Lane, Tina Johnson as Minnie, Kristen Graeber as Gretchen, Leo Ash Evens (Ensemble), Anne Lauterbach (Ensemble), Tim Brady (Ensemble), Gerard Canonico as Bradley, B.J. Eyth as Pierce, Laurie Gamache as Hathaway, David Larsen (Ensemble), Gaelen Gilliland as Coco, Jesse Nager as Belmondo, Nicholas Belton (Ensemble), Courtney Neville as Precious, Jason Patrick Sands as Chuck, Matthew Thibedeau as Armondo, Zakiya Young (Ensemble), Anika Bobb as Bettina and Eric Daniel Santagata as Guido.
Casper, drawing on the boy-ghost character who helps rather than spooks, was previously seen in London in 1999 and early 2000. The famous ghost was created in 1945 and, over the years, has haunted TV cartoons, comic books and a 1995 live action feature film.
In the original show, by lyricist-librettist David H. Bell and composers Henry Marsh (co-founder of the band Sailor) and Phil Pickett (who penned Boy George's "Karma Chameleon"), Casper helped a team of ghost hunters wage a high-tech battle with the supernatural to save a gothic Manhattan mansion from being overrun by zombies. The show's original concept is credited to Patrick Nally. Bell directed and choreographed the London staging. He previously co-wrote and directed The Hot Mikado at the Queen's Theatre (London) in 1995. Casper played briefly at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, opening in December 1999. The show — dubbed a "spooky spectacular" — spawned a cast album. Special effects and puppeteering were a major part of the London show and are used in Pittsburgh and the tour. The show's direction and choreography were praised in London.
The new score includes the following songs: "There's No Such Thing as Ghosts," "Someone's Coming Over to Play," "Fifteen Minutes of Fame," "Goodbye Sweet Angel," "Friend," "Happy Hunting Ballet," "I Take Charge," "Pretend," "He's a Nerd," "In the Spirit," "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," "Half Way Home," "Howl at the Moon," "The Greatest Treasure of All."
For information about Pittsburgh CLO, call (412) 456-6666, or visit the website at caspermusical.com.
— By Kenneth Jones