The Best of Times Is Now: Herman's Showtune Opens Off-Bway Feb. 27

News   The Best of Times Is Now: Herman's Showtune Opens Off-Bway Feb. 27 There's just no tune like a show tune, and Jerry Herman has proved it time and again — and will again with the Feb. 27 Off-Broadway opening of Showtune, a new conceptual revue of his hits.
Sandy Binion as Mame & Karen Murphy as Dolly in Showtune.
Sandy Binion as Mame & Karen Murphy as Dolly in Showtune. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Showtune, seen last fall at the Helen Hayes Theatre in Nyack, NY, and in earlier versions under several names in the last decade, made its Manhattan debut at Off Broadway's Theater at St. Peter's for a six week run starting Feb. 18.

The production, a piano-and-voice celebration of composer-lyricist Herman's songs from his many Broadway musicals, marks the directorial debut of choreographer Joey McKneely (The Life, Smokey Joe's Cafe). Rather than penning one of those "and-then-I wrote" revues or referencing specific shows such as Herman's Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World and La Cage aux Folles, the new revue's conceiver, Paul Gilger, creates new relationships and characters on which to hang the popular Herman catalog. (A spokesman admitted there is one moment of diva self-reference when Mame and Dolly meet in a fantasy.)

The cast includes the recent Nyack troupe with the exception of Donna McKechnie, who had commitments to her own solo act. Karen Murphy (recently of A Christmas Carol) steps into the McKechnie role for the Manhattan run.

The company includes Sandy Binion, Paul Harman, Russell Arden Koplin, Thomas Korbee Jr., pianist Bobby Peaco and Martin Vidnonvic. The run is scheduled to March 30 at the intimate East Side venue that is usually home for shows by The York Theatre Company.

* "It's the most interesting way to do a retrospective of a body of work that I've ever come across," Herman told Playbill On-Line. "[Paul Gilger] came up with a way to thread my songs together and create their own little stories having nothing to do with the way they're done in the actual shows. It's very fresh and new."

Do the numbers have "buttons," or do they bleed into each other?

"Both," Herman said. "Most of them go to applause, but there are several sections where songs just bleed into each other and there's one big applause at the end of that, so it's very varied. It's about relationships. Then, of course, we do songs sung by the six people, songs sung by two and three. It's beautifully staged by Joey McKneely."

Did Herman know conceiver Gilger prior to the idea of Showtune?

"No," Herman explained. "He called me and said he would love to send me an idea for a revue, and I said, 'Sure.' When I read the script — which is all lyrics, there's not a word of dialogue — I was just delighted. I made an immediate appointment to meet him. We got the most wonderful producer who has been behind this show for, oh, a decade. Jenny Sanchez [whose professional name is Jenny Strome, co-producing the Off-Broadway run with famed David Brown] has been masterminding how to do this and where to do this. We tried it in San Francisco, and it ran for two years. It was called Tune the Grand Up. It's had a lovely success and Jenny said it's time to do this in New York. We all decided we wanted to do it in the simplest and least pretentious way. We do it with six people and a gorgeous piano and the best show pianist I've ever heard, Bobby Peaco. He's an orchestra all by himself. It has the intimacy and charm of being in someone's living room. That's what we really wanted. I think it's a little jewel. I shouldn't be saying all this about my own show, but I can say this because I didn't put this together. It's not my concept, and I didn't stage it."

Showtune, which is also the title of composer lyricist Herman's 1996 memoir, began its most recent life with performances at the Helen Hayes Theatre Company in Nyack Oct. 12, 2002, and continued to Oct. 21.

The revue will feature Murphy (late of A Christmas Carol) and former Baby star Martin Vidnovic in an evening of tunes from a host of Herman musicals: "Shalom" (Milk & Honey); "Before the Parade Passes By," "Hello, Dolly!," "It Only Takes a Moment," "It Takes a Woman," "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," "Ribbons Down My Back" and "So Long Dearie" (Hello, Dolly!); "Bosom Buddies," "If He Walked Into My Life," "It's Today," "Mame," "The Man in the Moon," "My Best Girl," "Open a New Window," "That's How Young I Feel," "We Need a Little Christmas" and "What Do I Do Now?" (Mame); "And I Was Beautiful," "Kiss Her Now," "I Don't Want to Know" and "One Person" (Dear World); "Big Time," "Hundreds of Girls," "I Promise You a Happy Ending," "I Won't Send Roses," "Look What Happened to Mabel," "Movies Were Movies," "Tap Your Troubles Away," "Time Heals Everything" and "Wherever He Ain't" (Mack and Mabel); "I'll Be Here Tomorrow" (The Grand Tour); "Just Go to the Movies" and "Nelson" (A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine); and, from La Cage aux Folles, "A Little More Mascara," "The Best of Times," "I Am What I Am," "Song on the Sand" and "With You on My Arm."

Actor Harman was in the original companies of Les Misérables and Chess; Tom Korbee is a recent graduate of the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music; Russell Arden Koplin appeared on Broadway in Les Misérables and James Joyce's The Dead; and Sandy Binion is a former back-up singer for Tammy Faye Baker who has performed several times in Nyack's Broadway Concert Series and appeared in Broadway's Jane Eyre. Pianist Peaco is a seven time MAC Award winner.

Musical direction is by James Followell, known as a musical director for singer KT Sullivan.

Designers are Klara Zieglerova (set), Brian Nason (lighting), Tracy Christiansen (costume) and Peter Fitzgerald (sound).

All tickets are $65. The Theatre at St. Peter's is at 54th and Lexington in the Citicorp Center. For information, call (212) 239-6200 or visit telecharge.com.

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Early 2003 is busy for Herman, who has taken an apartment in Manhattan for several months: A starry benefit concert version of his Mack & Mabel will be staged March 31. Gay Men's Health Crisis is producing.

The company of <i>Showtune</i>.
The company of Showtune. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)