Barry and Fran Weissler, the unstoppable forces behind audience-pleasers Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun, are producing a Feb. 11-March 2 workshop that will further develop the William Finn-Richard Greenberg musical, The Royal Family of Broadway.
Laura Benanti, Carolee Carmello, Tovah Feldshuh and Elaine Stritch 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 rehearsals Feb. 11 under the direction of Jerry Zaks, with Scott Wise choreographing.
Stritch (Company) 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.
The 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 will be made after the current workshop. The rehearsals culminate in private presentations in New York City Feb. 28-29 and March 2, according to a Weissler spokesman.
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).
Bryan Batt is Tony, Jonathan Bleicher is the little boy, John Dossett is Gil, Larry Keith is Oscar and Jeremy Webb is Perry. The ensemble includes Cleve Asbury, Jim Borstelman, Susan Fletcher, Casey Miles Good, Susan Hefner, Danette Holden, Joe Locarro, Mary McCloud, Clasi Miller, Mark C. Reif, Josh Rhodes and Jerome Vivona.
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 of Broadway 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 reading does not necessarily reflect any future casting. The 1998 cast included Eileen Heckart as Fanny, Donna Murphy as Julia, Claire Lautier as Gwen, Remak Ramsey as Burt, 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, and will keep tabs on the new workshop. She also watched over a Feb. 8-10 reading of a new musical version of Kaufman and Ferber's Dinner at Eight, in New York, which coincidentally also featured Feldshuh.
At one time, Tommy Tune was attached to the Royal Family project, and, apparently under different producers, the property had once been mentioned as a project for composer-lyricist Jerry Herman.
-- By Kenneth Jones