The development of the musical version of The Royal Family, by composer-lyricist William Finn and new librettist James Lapine, continues with a weeklong private industry reading in Manhattan March 13-19, with some of the same company that appeared in previous readings.
Barry and Fran Weissler are shepherding the musical, titled The Royal Family of Broadway, which lost its most recent librettist, Richard Greenberg, since the February 2000 reading-workshop. Kenny Solms is the original librettist who brought the project to the Weisslers in 1994, with Tommy Tune and Jerry Herman attached. Jerry Zaks is director.
The cast, playing the George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber characters inspired by the real-life Barrymore theatrical family, includes Elaine Stritch (Company, Show Boat) as theatrical grande dame Fanny, Brent Barrett (Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun) as her son, Tony, Donna Murphy (Passion, The King and I) as actress-daughter Julie and Jessica Boevers as ingenue granddaughter Gwen (Julie's daughter). John Horton (Kiss Me, Kate) is Fanny's brother, Bert, Tovah Feldshuh (Tallulah Hallelujah) is Kitty, Bert's wife. Chuck Wagner (Into the Woods) plays Gil, Julie's husband. John Hickok (Aida) is Officer O'Reilly, Nora Mae Lyng is the Maid, Larry Cahn is Officer Washington. Walter Charles (Wit) plays Fanny's late husband, Aubrey. Jeremy Webb (Tabletop) plays Perry, Gwen's husband.
Stritch will essay the role of the family's matriarch, Fanny Cavendish, who speaks lovingly in the 1927 play about the joy, heartache and tradition of "going on" — a reference to being on the boards and to the family name and heritage continuing. Stritch performed the role in the 2000 workshop.
Even before 2000, the musical valentine to theatre people 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's future has yet to be made. Members of the Kaufman and Ferber families, including Kaufman's daughter, Anne Kaufman Schneider, will give a listen to the material. The original play is about the off-stage drama in the lives of the Cavendishes, whose attributes mirrored the Barrymores and the Drews. The play 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.
Unlike most of composer-lyricist William Finn's better-known work (Falsettos, A New Brain), The Royal Family of Broadway is not sung-through, a source told Playbill On Line.
Lapine, himself a respected director (Dirty Blonde, Into the Woods, Passion), collaborated famously with Finn on Off-Broadway's March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland and its Tony Award-winning Broadway melding, known as Falsettos.
— By Kenneth Jones