Just in time for the holidays comes the improbably-titled new Broadway musical, James Joyce's The Dead, beginning previews Dec. 14 at the Belasco Theatre.
For the uninitiated, the short story on which Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey's so-called "musical play" does indeed have a link to yuletide: It's set at an Irish Christmas party at which the past is conjured in ways that impact an unhappily-married couple, Gretta and Gabriel.
The limited 10-week, 80-performance run comes after a sold-out engagement at Playwright Horizons Off-Broadway in October and November. Stars Blair Brown and Christopher Walken, as Gretta and Gabriel, recreate their roles, along with the rest of the Playwrights cast, under the sole direction of Nelson (who, Off-Broadway, shared directorial credit with Jack Hofsiss).
Performances continue to Feb. 20 at the Belasco, a theatre long rumored to be haunted. An opening night will be designated sometime in mid January, according to a spokesman.
The musical's credits read: book by Richard Nelson, music by (Irish composer) Shaun Davey, lyrics conceived and adapted by Richard Nelson & Shaun Davey. Charles Prince is musical director. The six-week Off-Broadway engagement Oct. 1-Nov. 14 quickly sold out, and two weeks were added (to Nov. 28) to accommodate a Playwrights Horizons waiting list.
The show opened on Oct. 28 and is considered by its supporters to be a subtle, somber antidote to brassier Broadway fare.
Producers Gregory Mosher and Arielle Tepper are behind the commercial transfer.
For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.
The world premiere musical merges old verse, new songs and Joyce's famous short story. Playwrights Horizons staged it "by special arrangement" with producers Mosher and Tepper.
The Joyce story was made into a film in 1987, starring Angelica Huston and the recently deceased Donal McCann, under the direction of John Huston (the film was Huston's last).
As in the film, the theatre piece features singing and dancing, though Mosher was reluctant to call The Dead a musical. He told Playbill On-Line earlier in 1999 that he refers to the piece as a "play with music." A spokesman for the show said "musical play" is accurate, too: In addition to traditional, presentational Irish tunes, there are character-specific songs.
An authors' program note reads: "The lyrics to some of these songs have been adapted from or inspired by a number of 18th- and 19th-century Irish poems by Oliver Goldsmith, Lady Sydney Morgan, Michael William Balfe, William Allingham and from an anonymous 19th century music hall song. Other lyrics are adapted from the Joyce or are original. Lyrics of 'D'Arcy's Aria' were translated into Italian by Ali Davey. Mary Jane's academy piece and additional arrangements, by Deobroah Abramson. Other party underscore pieces in Scene 3 derive from the works of Thomas More."
The story, drawn from Joyce's collection, "Dubliners," is set at the Christmastime party of Gabriel's music-loving aunts. A song sung at the holiday party revives wife Gretta's buried memories of a boy she loved as a teenager and who died young. As Gabriel listens to Gretta relate the tale of her early love, he realizes a man he never knew has had a grip on his wife's imagination for years. Gabriel grapples with the revelation that the dead -- even the unknown dead -- never release their hold on the living.
Joining Walken and Brown are former Side Show Tony Award nominees Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley as Mary Jane and Molly Ivors, respectively, Tony Award-winner Daisy Eagan (grown up now, since her Tony win in The Secret Garden) as Rita and Young Julia, two-time Tony-winner Stephen Spinella (Angels in America) as Freddy Malins, Tony nominee Sally Ann Howes (1963's Brigadoon revival, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") as Aunt Julia and Nixon (famous as the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film "My Fair Lady") as Aunt Kate.
The 13-performer company also includes Brian Davies (the original Hero of A Funny Thing Happened...) as Mr. Browne, Paddy Croft (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and 1999's Night Must Fall) as Mrs. Malins, Dashiell Eaves (the recent revivals of 1776 and The Sound Music) as Michael, performance artist John Kelly as tenor Bartell D'Arcy and Brooke Sunny Moriber (Parade) as Lily.
Nelson's grasp of the British sensibility and subjects is well known to followers of his work, Goodnight Children Everywhere, Some Americans Abroad and Two Shakespearean Actors. Nelson has been a director in New York and London, recently staging his own Goodnight Children Everywhere at Playwrights and Kenneth's First Play (written with Colin Chambers) for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Among Davey's songs is a number for Gretta, telling the story of her lost love. The final song of the evening maps the course of Joyce's story's famous last paragraph: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
Songs in the musical, as of the first preview, included "Killarney's Lakes," "Kate Kerney," "Parnell's Plight," "Adieu to Ballyshannon," "When Lovely Lady," "Three Jolly Pigeons," "Goldenhair," "Three Graces," "Naughty Girls," "Wake the Dead," "D'Arcy's Aria," "Queen of Our Hearts," "When Lonely Lady (reprise)," "Michael Furey," "The Living and the Dead."
Designing the Off-Broadway staging are David Jenkins (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting) and Scott Lehrer (sound). Choreography is by Sean Curran, a Stomp dancer since 1994 and a vet of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.