Continuing its current season dedicated to "the American Playwright," Houston, TX's Alley Theatre turns to a modern master, August Wilson, and his acclaimed drama Seven Guitars.
A co-production with Seattle Repertory, Wilson's play -- the seventh in his cycle of works exploring the African-American experience in this century -- tells of Floyd, a blues guitarist buoyed by the chance of a recording contract in Chicago, until greed brings him down. Other plays by Wilson include Fences, Jitney and The Piano Lesson. Jonathan Wilson (no relation to August) will direct the play, which opens Feb. 18 and runs to March 14. Previews begin Feb. 13.
Starring in Seven Guitars are Jernard Burks, Leslie DoQui, Lou Ferguson, Cynthia Jones, Ken LaRon, Alex Allen Morris (Floyd) and Gwendolyn Mulamba. Designing the show are Scott Bradley (set), Constanza Romero (costumes), Jim Ragland (sound/original music) and Chris Akerlind (lighting).
Nominated for eight Tony Awards, Seven Guitars closed on Broadway, Sept. 8, 1996. For tickets to the Alley production call (713) 228-8421.
* Also on tap for the Alley:
Perhaps the greatest of all American plays, Long Day's Journey Into Night opens Feb. 25 and will feature Ellen Burstyn as Mrs. Tyrone, the drug-addled mother of tubercular Edmond and dissipated Jamie, and wife of stingy husband, James. Burstyn won an Oscar for her work in film's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and a Tony for starring on Broadway in Same Time Next Year. Her most recent Broadway appearance was the religious drama, Sacrilege.
While all this is going on in Houston, Trevor Nunn is taking three Alley Theatre actors to London for rehearsals of the world premiere of a "lost" Tennessee Williams play, Not About Nightingales. The show will have a cast of 18 and premiere at the Royal National's Cottesloe Theatre, March 5. The show, beginning previews Feb. 27 and running to May 2, will be co-produced by the National and Moving Theatres, alongside the Alley.
Among the Alley actors chosen are James Black, who was in Alley stagings of Angels In America and Love! Valour! Compassion!; Sherri Parker Lee, an American Repertory Theatre Institute graduate; and Noble Shropshire, who's appeared in ten Alley shows.
Williams' 1938 drama was based on true events in a southern prison, wherein one inmate tries to distance himself from his rebellious companions. Corin Redgrave plays the no-nonsense Warden, who punishes the rebels by locking them into an airless boiler room. Redgrave staged and apepared in recent Moving Theatre/Alley Theatre collaborations of Julius Caesar and Anthony and Cleopatra.
It was Vanessa Redgrave who first brought Nightingales to Boyd's attention following her 1996 residency at the Houston theatre. Said Nunn, "When we sit down on the first day of rehearsal to read Not About Nightingales, we shall be making theatre history, as the whole play is spoken aloud for the first time... It will be a rare and heart-stopping experience."
Back on the Alley homefront, Kushner's play is titled, Hydriotaphia, or, The Death Of Dr. Browne, and concerns the last hours of 17th century author Sir Thomas Browne, considered by his contemporaries to be the greatest mind since William Shakespeare. Alley associate artist Michael Wilson, who staged Kushner's Angels In America at the theatre, directs the comedy/drama, which begins previews March 27, opens April 3, and runs to April 25. The show was first workshopped April 1997 at New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts, with Wilson directing.
Other Kushner plays include Slavs!, an adaptation of Corneille's Illusion, an adaptation of S. Ansky's Dybbuk, and A Bright Room Called Day.
Crazy comedy then ensues with Noises Off, Michael Frayn's 1982 farce of life backstage for a second rate theatre company stuck in a third rate play. Artistic director Boyd will direct the piece, May 8-June 7, with an opening set for May 13.
Currently Off-Broadway at the Century Theatre, Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive will have its Southwest premiere May 22-June 14, with an opening May 27. Vogel's drama of a young girl's unhealthy relationship with her charming but alcoholic uncle, won the 1997 Lucille Lortel and NY Drama Critics Circle Awards for best play. Other Vogel plays include The Baltimore Waltz (staged by Alley in 1992), Hot N' Throbbin' and Desdemona.
Frank Wildhorn may have two musicals -- The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway -- but they aren't the only items on the composer's plate. As reported by Playbill On-Line in March, Wildhorn -- much as Tim Rice and Alan Menken did on King David -- is developing an oratorio, alongside lyricist Jack Murphy.
Titled The Civil War: An American Musical, the piece will draw its material from original civil war documents, Walt Whitman poetry and other correspondence of the time.
According to Gary Gunas (of PACE Theatricals), a "star-studded" concept CD is expected for Summer 1998, followed by a televised concert special. Houston, TX's Alley Theatre will premiere the piece: Sept. 18. The show, to be directed by librettist Gregory Boyd, is expected to tour a year before coming to Broadway. Alley Theatre spokesperson Jennifer Garza told Playbill On Line (Jan. 12) dates haven't been confirmed yet, but the theatre is hoping to open its 1998-99 season with The Civil War.
According to Martha Ashton of Wildhorn Productions, there will be two CDs of Civil War. One will be a full-score double disk; the other will concentrate on "radio friendly mixes." Scheduled to sing are Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Deana Carter, Hootie & The Blowfish, Carl Anderson, Tracy Lawrence, Kenny Rogers, John Berry, Linda Eder (Jekyll & Hyde), Betty Buckley, Dr. John, Patti LaBelle, Bebe Winans, The Sounds Of Blackness, LeAnne Rimes, Bryan White, Carl Anderson, Michel Bell (Show Boat) and The Broadway All-Star Chorus." Ashton says a half-dozen major "pop stars" are also expected to sign on to the project "in the weeks to follow."
Reached Oct. 22, Wildhorn acknowledged that The Civil War CD is turning into a major drawing card for pop singers. Wildhorn calls it, "the largest American theatre album ever made: 28-30 major acts. Such a sweep of wonderful artists, I'm in heaven!" said Wildhorn. "[Civil War] combines what I love the most: theatre and the best pop singers in the world today making a record. It brings the record-making and theatre worlds together. This is an enormous commitment from Atlantic Records to a theatre piece. Not just RCA Victor or Sony Classics -- this is Atlantic Records, home of Led Zep and Jewel. Anyway, we expect a double and a single" in May and June. "In August, Pierre Cossette will televise a 2 hour special of the album. And Sept. 18, the full-year national tour starts at the Alley Theatre in Houston."
Wildhorn expects fall 1999 to bring Civil War to New York, "either to a Broadway house or the Paramount. And we'll go from there. This thing will have a very different kind of life from a Broadway show. It's not an oratorio, nor a play with music, nor a concert -- but it has elements of all those things. It's a huge emotional tapestry, the people of the times and the loss that defined those times. It consists of letters and diary entries and speeches -- that's the thread of the piece. Even Jack Murphy's song lyrics are based on poetry and speeches. The piece goes from Secession to the dawn of Gettysburg. (There was too much stuff to go to the entire inaugural.) And if it all works, maybe a year from now, we'll do the next part." Wildhorn said he has "a lot of ideas" about casting but won't be making any decisions until after Christmastime.
Winner of the 1996 Tony for outstanding regional theatre (as recommended by the American Theatre Critics Association), the Alley Theatre has produced such works as 1990's Jekyll & Hyde (which later toured and now runs on Broadway), and Robert Wilson's Hamlet, A Monologue.