It was a mad scramble, but in the end, The Dead couldn't quite rush onto Broadway this season.
Co-producer Gregory Mosher (with Arielle Tepper) had been hoping to do a $3 million blitz this weekend and bring The Dead to Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre (where Parade closes Feb. 28), but it was too much, too soon. That said, Mosher intends to keep the project very much alive, either for Broadway or Off, next season.
"It definitely can't be this season," Mosher told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 22). "We'd have had to have started rehearsals this week to do that. Instead, we're going to regroup and figure out what's next. I don't know when or where. Hey, it was the longest of longshots, and it was fun to try. But the show is so good, you don't want to screw it up by rushing it into production. "
Continued Mosher, "The cast members are still up for it. The people I've spoken to are certainly interested, and we love them in the roles." Those actors include Patti LuPone, whose recent interest in the project started the big Broadway push a couple of weeks ago. Asked if LuPone might follow the show to a big or smaller New York house, Mosher said, "She seemed open to it this morning."
* Before the crazed weekend, co-producer Mosher told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 18), "Two weeks ago, Patti LuPone said she wanted to do it. Suddenly, in all the months of planning -- where we'd never even mentioned the "B word" -- Broadway became a possibility. Then it became a question of finding a theatre. But with the sad closing of Parade, suddenly the Vivian Beaumont became potentially available."
Continued Mosher, "Last Friday Feb. 12, I spoke to Andre [Bishop] & Bernie [Gersten] at Lincoln Center. They said they might be very interested, not as a Lincoln Center production but as a rental. (Though we'd make this available to their members, etcetera.) Since then I've been on an enjoyable scramble to find the $3 million to do this on a Broadway scale. We're proceeding BUT we're not complete yet. So tomorrow (Feb. 19) we will find out whether this mad dash to take advantage of Patti's availability will pay off."
Mosher made no secret of hoping to capitalize on what has been perceived as a weak season for new musicals. "The show doesn't need to be workshopped," he added. "It just needs a production."
Though contracts haven't been inked, LuPone's co-stars intended for the project were to include Eileen Brennan, Sally Ann Howes, Daisy Eagan (Tony-winner for Secret Garden) and downtown diva John Kelly.
Only a few weeks ago, The Dead was planned for Off-Broadway's Orensanz Center, opening April 1, with rehearsals scheduled to begin Feb. 22. (The Lower East Side's Angel Orensanz Foundation Center is fast becoming one of Off-Broadway's more popular new spaces. The former synagogue, built in 1850 by architect Alexander Saeltzer and modeled after the Cathedral of Cologne, was home to the Tyne Daly vehicle Mystery School last spring. Then, last summer, Mandy Patinkin performed his sold-out show Mamaloshen at the center, a production which subsequently transferred to Broadway's Belasco Theatre.)
Playwright Nelson (New England) adapted The Dead, and Jack Hofsiss (The Elephant Man) was to direct a cast of 16. The design crew was to include David Jenkins (set), Jennifer Tipton (lights) and Jane Greenwood (costumes).
Regarding the Orensanz, Mosher told Playbill On-Line, "I think it's the most beautiful space I've seen in America. We're going to put the audience all around the action. The setting will be simple: a platform, a table for dinner and a bed."
"The Dead" is taken from Joyce's famous short story collection, "The Dubliners." The story takes place on a winter's evening in Dublin. Two elderly sisters are holding an annual holiday dance and dinner in their house. Among the guests are Gretta and Gabriel Conroy. A song sung at the gathering revives Gretta 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 hold 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.
The story was turned into a film in 1987, starring Angelica Huston and Donal McCann, under the direction of John Huston (the film was Huston's last.) As in the film, the theatre piece will feature singing and dancing, though Mosher is reluctant to call The Dead a musical. For now, he refers to it as a "play with music." Shaun Davey, an Irish musician, has composed a dozen songs for the show. In one number, Gretta tells the story of her lost love. The final song of the evening maps the course of Joyce's story's famous last paragraph.
-- By David Lefkowitz
and Robert Simonson