Eleven nominations, no awards. Those words will likely be ringing in the ears of investors and fans of Broadway's Steel Pier for years to come, as the John Kander & Fred Ebb musical couldn't overcome mixed reviews and a blanking at the Tony Awards to make a successful commercial run.
The show will close June 28, after 33 previews and 76 regular performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Previews began March 27; opening night was April 24.
Ironically, on June 8, Steel Pier took top honors at the Friends of New York Theatre (FANY) Awards, considered the "people's choice" of theatre awards. The show won for Outstanding Musical.
In a statement, producer Roger Berlind said, "We are all saddened by the premature closing of Steel Pier. It is a work of genuine artistry developed with loving care by a superb creative team and beautifully performed by our stellar cast. We were undone by the failure to win a single Tony award despite 11 nominations. We remain extremely proud of the piece and intend to mount a national tour during the 1998-99 season." Pier's score will also be preserved thanks to RCA Victor (BMG), which will release an original cast CD July 29. Songs in the show include "Dance With Me," "Everybody's Girl" and "Running In Place."
Ironically, a previous Kander & Ebb musical also was nominated for 11 Tonys and lost them all. The show was the original 1975 Chicago, which went on to a Broadway run of 898 performances, and is currently enjoying a successful revival that won six Tonys in the year Steel Pier won none.
Those 76 performances will give Steel Pier the shortest run of any Kander & Ebb show since 1971's 70 Girls, 70. For a complete list of Kander & Ebb shows, see "The Musicals of Kander & Ebb" in the "Countdown To Curtain -- Steel Pier" section of Theatre News.
Steel Pier is about marathon-dancing in The Depression of the 1930s -- a phenomenon recounted in a darker way in Horace McCoy's 1935 novel and Sydney Pollack's 1969 film, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
The musical's book, a love story with that chaotic backdrop, is an original by David (And the World Goes 'Round) Thompson. Karen Ziemba plays Rita, a young woman waiting for her dance partner to show up at the marathon. Though she keeps turning down offers from Bill, a pilot, to be her partner, there's definitely a mutual attraction between them. This doesn't sit well with Mick, the marathon's host, and also Rita's -- well, you have two more weeks to see the show to learn the rest.
At an open rehearsal of the show, March 4, author Thompson told Playbill On-Line he wrote the script "from top to bottom before any songs were composed." He researched the era at the New York Public Library and tried to capture "a world that has disappeared." For Thompson, the most exciting part is seeing how "Stro [Susan Stroman] can take a moment of dance and condense whole scenes into a kind of shorthand. That's where the `eurekas!' come in."
In fact, the musical marked a reunion for Thompson, who wrote the book for the Kander & Ebb revue And the World Goes 'Round, Scott Ellis (She Loves Me, Company), choreographer Stroman (Crazy for You, Big, Show Boat) and actress Ziemba -- all of whom worked on And the World Goes 'Round.
Harrison, who plays Mick, was best known as Gonzo Gates on TV's "Trapper John M.D.," but he's also done theatre, having won Drama-Logue Awards for Picnic (Ahmanson) and Feiffer's Carnal Knowledge (Pasadena Playhouse) and a Best Actor Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for The Hasty Heart.
A Drama Desk winner for And The World Goes `Round, Ziemba appeared in Off-Broadway's 1996 I Do! I Do! revival, and in the Broadway company and national tour of Crazy For You. Other Broadway credits include A Chorus Line, 42nd Street. At NY City Opera, she starred in The Most Happy Fella and 110 In The Shade.
Making his Broadway debut as Bill is film and TV actor Daniel McDonald ("All My Children," Dave).
Debra Monk is a Broadway veteran, having earned a Tony for Lanford Wilson's Redwood Curtain and a Tony nomination for Picnic. Co-author of Pump Boys And Dinettes and Oil City Symphony, Monk also appeared in Nick & Nora and Prelude To A Kiss.
Wright comes to the show from touring as Lola in the Jerry Lewis Damn Yankees.
Other members of the cast of 30 are Alison Bevan, Joel Blum (Show Boat), Ronn Carroll, Kristen Chenoweth, John C. Havens, Jim Newman, Timothy Warmen, Leslie Bell, Brad Bradley, Rosa Curry, Robert Fowler, Ida Gilliams, Jack Hayes, JoAnn M. Hunter, Mary Illes, Angelique Ilo, John MacInnis, Dana Lynn Mauro, Gregory Mitchell, Casey Nicholaw, Adam Pelty and Sarah Solie Shannon.
Steel Pier was to have been the third Kander & Ebb show on Broadway this season. The revival of their 1975 show, Chicago, preceded Steel Pier into the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and transfered to the Shubert Theatre Feb. 12. But Roundabout Theatre Company's planned revival of Cabaret has been postponed to (possibly) 1998.
David Loud serves as Steel Pier's musical director. He told Playbill On-Line the hardest part of working on the show for him is approximating the 3 and 4-part harmonies of old-style singing. "The cast is wonderful," Loud said. "Many of them were hired as dancers, but they sing beautifully."
The early 1930s is an intriguing period for Loud, and he's quick to stress the more show-bizzy elements of dance marathons, rather than the dark, "They Shoot Horses Don't They" aspects most people associate with such events. "We interviewed people who took part in marathons, and they said you would dance for 45 minutes, and sleep for 15. These things would go on for weeks! But eventually, their bodies would figure out how to adjust. It was also a different time in that there was a real fascination in people living out their lives in front of the public...a novelty of seeing people's day-to-day existence unfolded in front of us."
Producer Berlind is the same Tony winning lead-angel who produced City of Angels.
Tickets are now at the box office and via phone at (212) 307-4100 or (800) 755-4000.