Scott Wise, a Tony winner for Jerome Robbins Broadway, plays the lead in the premiere of Lucky in the Rain officially opening Aug. 1, at Goodspeed Opera House. Performances began July 9.
Also starring will be Marla Schaffel, who played the title role in the Canadian premiere of the Broadway-bound Jane Eyre; and Patrick Wilson, who won criticial acclaim in the national tour of Carousel.
The show's music and lyrics are drawn from the songbook of the late Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson. Sherman Yellen (1971 Tony nomination for The Rothchilds) wrote the book. Peter Matz is doing orchestrations with Wally Harper providing the dance arrangements.
The musical, about the romantic entanglements of two American journalists living in 1920s Paris, is being directed by Christopher Ashley (Jeffrey, Das Barbecu, Bunny, Bunny) with choreography by Randy Skinner (co-director and choreographer State Fair; who was Tony-nominated for his dances in Ain't Broadway Grand). The show is to run in the 398-seat main stage through Sept. 19.
Lucky In the Rain has additional music and lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael, Walter Donaldson, Al Dubin, and Dorothy Fields. Among the songs in the score are: "Sunny Side Of the Street," "Exactly Like You," "Don't Blame Me," "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening," "I'm Shooting High," "Where Are You," and "South American Way," a song introduced in the movies by Carmen Miranda which now becomes Wise's big Act II production number. Also starring is Rita Gardner, best known for her role as the orignal "girl" in The Fantastics, and Susan Browning, who starred in the original Broadway cast of Sondheim's Company. Other performers include Marcus Neville, Jennifer Smith and David Brummel.
Wise, one of the best-known male gypsies in the theatre, won a featured actor Tony for his show-stopping dancing in 1989's Jerome Robbins' Broadway. He was nominated last season for his performance as State Fair's lady's man reporter Pat Gilbert. This was Wise's "break out" role after years of standout ensemble all-singing, all-dancing work. In Lucky, Wise will portray Zach Monroe, another ladies's man.
Wise was cast in the pre-Broadway run of Dream but abruptly left the show shortly before it's pre-Broadway engagement in Nashville.
The Theatre Development Fund bestowed their 1995 Astaire Award for Best Male Dancer on Wise for his work in countless musicals -- among them Cats, Song and Dance, Carrie, the Guys and Dolls revival, The Goodbye Girl, and the Damn Yankees! revival.
Schaffel scored big with critics and audiences in Jane Eyre, the $6 million John Caird/Paul Gordon musical adaption (the cast of 30 co starred Tony Award winner Anthony Crivello [Kiss Of the Spider Woman] of Charlotte Bronte's novel, in its Canadian premiere at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre. It opened Dec. 3 last year and closed this Feb. 1. David and Ed Mirvish are scheduled to present the musical, directed by Caird (Les Miserables with Trevor Nunn), on Broadway in October at a theatre to be announced.
Playing another Jane, this time Jane Wiley, Schaffel appeared on Broadway as Fantine in Les Mis and in the lead of the national tour of Evita. Regional theatre work includes Top Girls, Fool for Love, A Little Night Music, Paint Your Wagon, Summer and Smoke, and Twelfth Night. She's featured on the soundtrack and recording of the upcoming animated feature The Prince of Egypt.
Wilson, who plays Henderson Booth in Lucky, received phenomenal raves throughout the 40-city tour of Carousel, which ended its run May 20 in Providence, RI. Prior to that, he was featured in the first national tour of Miss Saigon and understudied the role of Chris. Other credits include the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.
MORE ON SCOTT WISE
"Surprise of surprises, after performing for 16 years I finally got to talk in State Fair," said Wise in a recent interview. "And even got the girl (Andrea McArdle)."
Why did it take so long? "Broadway was never my goal," he replied. "My career happened on a dare. I was at the Joffrey Ballet School. In 1980, a couple of guys were going to an open call for A Chorus Line, which I had just seen. I was a 'ballerina' and not necessarily ready to move on. They wanted me along. You know, safety in numbers, but I didn't have money for a token. Jeff Amston, who went on to dance on Broadway and teach, gave me one. To this day he feels he's responsible for my success!"
Tom Reed, who was then dance captain, showed Wise what was required. "'No big deal,' I told himself. I did it and they asked me to come back. Tom said, 'You're going to be singing tomorrow.' I went, 'Okay.' He asked, 'Where's your headshot?' I replied, 'Headshot? I don't have one.' He told me, 'You'll need a picture and resume.'"
Wise found a piece of paper and wrote, "From Spokane, University of Idaho, Royal Academy of Dance in London, studying at the Joffrey Ballet School, gymnastics a specialty." He went to Times Square and had a picture taken in one of those four-for-a-dollar booths and stapled it to the paper. He got the job playing Mike Costa and singing "I Can Do That" for a year on Broadway.
Nine years later he was hired for Jerome Robbins' Broadway and found himself in the company of veteran dancers, but he wasn't intimidated. "I wanted to dance and that's what I would be doing. Jerry and I got along great and developed a lasting friendship."
Was Robbins the taskmaster we've heard and read about? "Oh, yeah! He came down hard if you didn't work hard, but he worked harder. He didn't tell you to do something and then throw a fit if you got it wrong. He hardly sat back and pointed. He worked his butt off."
The recognition of winning a Tony was great, but Wise explained people came to expect more. "Don't get me wrong, everyone should win one. But in some ways, it hurt. You win a Tony because you have a facility as an actor or performer to do something that lets you show off. Me winning a Tony was a prize for getting up onstage and doing what I love. Dancing is what I know.
"Unfortunately, the Tony raised me up a notch. I'd go to an audition and they'd whispher, 'Hummm. He can dance but he can't act.' There was a lot of head scratching and I'm sure they wondered 'How'd he win a Tony?'"
Wise chose to continue going up for mainly dance shows. "I never had aspirations to act so I was fine," he observed. Wise was in demand, at the top of every choreographer's short list. He could be relied upon to do knockout work that had audiences on the edge of their seats. "Unfortunately I relaxed on what came easy instead of working on what didn't. It was a mistake. I should have worked harder on my singing and acting to break out earlier."
With hundreds of applicants for the part of Pat in State Fair, why did Randy Skinner (and co-director James Hammerstein) choose Wise? "Scott read well," said Skinner, "and was right physically. He's at home onstage. He loves to dance and it shows. Having him in the role added dimension. Also, he can carry a solo. With Scott you don't have to worry. He intrinsically understands a role. In real life, he's a a charmer who goes about what he does with ease. It's not often you find a performer who can bring that same essence to his stage persona."
Even after making "the break," Wise has returned to ensemble dance work. After his departure from Dream, he considered returning to Cats, but opted to join the chorus of Victor/ Victoria. For tickets or more information call (860) 873-8668, or refer to the Goodspeed Opera House regional listing on Playbill On-Line.
-- By Ellis Nassour