Marla Schaffel goes from singing about what's deep in her "secret soul," in Broadway's Jane Eyre, to the Gershwins' greatest hits in the new Goodspeed Musicals tuner, They All Laughed!, beginning June 29 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.
Singing "Sweet Liberty," "Painting Her Portrait," "Sirens" and "Secret Soul," Schaffel earned a 2001 Best Actress Tony Award nomination for the title role of the musical, Jane Eyre (which closes on Broadway June 10), and took home the Best Actress Drama Desk Award for the part. In They All Laughed! she replaces the previously-announced Tobi Foster as the lead love interest, Billie, a bootlegger who hides hooch in a playboy's Long Island mansion. The casting change came shortly after Christopher Ashley was named new director in late May, after John Rando pulled out because of a heavy work schedule.
The world premiere musical, which has commercial producers attached to take it to the next step, uses songs from the catalog of George and Ira Gershwin and has a new book by Joe DiPietro, inspired by the Gershwins' Oh, Kay!
Goodspeed executive producer Michael Price said Rando's Urinetown and A Thousand Clowns projects were pulling his focus and Rando told Goodspeed he was withdrawing from the new musical.
The withdrawal is not about artistic issues, Price said, it's about Rando's suddenly busy schedule. Rando and Ashley met and discussed the show, since Ashley inherited Rando's design team and cast, and because Rando has been collaborating with The All Laughed! book writer Joe DiPietro for the past year and a half. "Chris rearranged his schedule so he could join us," Price said. "John is spending a lot of time with Chris right now. Chris is an old Goodspeed hand and an old friend of ours here, and there's a lot of shorthand with the stage management team."
Ashley, currently represented on Broadway with The Rocky Horror Show, has staged Redhead and Lucky in the Rain (which featured Schaffel) for Goodspeed. Rando has a current Broadway hit with Neil Simon's The Dinner Party and his staging of the musical, Urinetown, is moving to Broadway come summer. His revival staging of Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns, starring Tom Selleck, is in tryout in Chicago prior to a July 4 first preview on Broadway.
Schaffel has been associated with Jane Eyre for six years, and appeared in its developmental stagings in Kansas, Toronto and La Jolla, CA. She appeared on Broadway in Les Miserables and Titanic. Her casting in They All Laughed! was announced by Goodspeed June 6.
Goodspeed Musicals, operating out of the historic opera house in East Haddam, CT, offers They All Laughed!, in association with producer Jonathan Pollard, Dena Hammerstein and Bernie Kukoff (who are also responsible for producing DiPietro's Off-Broadway hits I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and Over The River And Through The Woods).
The cast of They All Laughed, inspired by the old Gershwin hit, Oh, Kay!, includes James Ludwig, Michael McGrath, Mark Lotito, Dennis Kelly, Donna English, Mary Beth Peil, Amanda Watkins and Diane J. Findlay. Also performing are Kevin Crewell, Matthew Farver, Lori Ann Ferreri, Kate Fisher, Jessica Hartman, Ethan Jones, Mike McGowan, Karina Michaels, Laurie Mitchell and Lauren Schutter.
They All Laughed! is drawn from the 1926 Gershwin-Guy Bolton-P.G. Wodehouse tuner, Oh, Kay!, which gave the world, "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Dear Little Girl" and "Do, Do, Do."
Producer Pollard previously said this is "the first regional step" toward its commercial future.
The new show's score includes "He Loves and She Loves," "The Sweet and Low Down," "Heaven on Earth," "Clap Yo' Hands," "Let's Kiss and Make Up," "My Cousin in Milwaukee" and the title song.
"Joe was approached by the Gershwin family to do this project," Pollard told Playbill On-Line Nov. 10, 2000. "He created a Kaufmanesque farce — a screwball comedy with glorious music. What is wonderful about this project is that it's not a huge musical, it's a musical with three sets very much in the tradition of the old-fashioned glorious musicals. It's not a 'mega musical.'"
Pollard said DiPietro took plots points and some songs from Oh, Kay! and reinvented a script. It's still set in the 1920s, during Prohibition.
They All Laughed! was first performed in a series of industry readings in January 2000 with a cast that included Roger Bart, Laura Benanti, Kevin Chamberlain, Donna English, Tovah Feldshuh and Mary Beth Peil.
It's not the first time the songs of George and Ira Gershwin have been plundered for "new" shows: My One and Only, Crazy For You and The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm were all new Broadway constructions using old songs. Neil Simon has once worked on an abandoned Gershwin infused musical called A Foggy Day.
For information, call the Goodspeed box office at (860) 873-8668.
— By Kenneth Jones