Though the egg-bearing bunny hopped across calendars March 30, the big Easter day for theatre fans was April 7, when a new stage version of the 1948 film musical Easter Parade went into a five-week rehearsal/workshop. The workshop was originally supposed to culminate in several performances for friends and backers in early May, but Tommy Tune & Co. have decided to take a more informal approach, inviting backers and guests to come in throughout the rehearsal process at the Westbeth Theatre Center.
Said librettist Phillip Oesterman, "Things are going great. We get done what we get done; we may finish the whole thing in five weeks, we may not -- but it looks like we may." No immediate outcome is expected from this early workshop, but Oesterman anticipates the show reaching Broadway in early spring 1998. The first pre-Broadway stop will be a developmental production (for an invited audience) at Theatre Under The Stars in Houston, probably in September, followed by St. Paul MN's Ordway Theatre, and Seattle's 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company. Leaders from all three theatres hailed the move as a "new wave of American musicals that originate in non-profit theatres around the nation." This new consortium, titled "New Musicals Studio/USA," has three other musicals in development for the coming season, chosen from 300 applicants.
Asked about the rehearsal process, Oesterman told Plabybill On-Line (April 14) things were smooth and "happy happy happy," and that each rehearsal begins with 15 minutes of breathing exercises. "It's kind of a yoga and relaxation thing, and we close it with the phrase, `May we all be the best we can be.' Then we go to work."
Oesterman thinks one reason things are running so smoothly is that he, director Tune, star Sandy Duncan, and co-choreographer Tad Tadlock are all Texans. "There's something about people from Texas. They're not like people from Iowa." Ms. Tadlock's has extensive choreography credits on TV and in New York parades.
The only tough part has been musical director Wally Harper's badly broken ankle. "We're three long flights up," said Oesterman. "He's on crutches, and on top of that, he has to play every night with Barbara Cook at her show at the Carlyle." Ironically, Tune's own leg injury was the reason given for the demise of his Busker Alley on the road. With songs by Irving Berlin and a book by Phillip Oesterman, Irving Berlin's Easter Parade will star Sandy Duncan (Star Spangled Girl) and Tommy Tune, in his first Broadway-bound project since Busker Alley closed out of town and he left The Royal Family behind. Tune and Oesterman will co-direct; Tune and Tad Lock will co choreograph. According to Theatrical Index, The Swells Company will produce IBEP through its workshop phase.
Songs in the Judy Garland/Fred Astaire film included "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "Shaking The Blues Away," "A Couple Of Swells" and the title tune. Oesterman said the show will have interpolated Berlin songs not in the movie, but couldn't yet give a full run-down of the score. He did say he's added and subtracted characters and adapted the film's story to be "more age appropriate for Tommy and Sandy. Sandy's character, especially, will be more experienced."
According Leonard Maltin's TV Movies & Video Guide, the story had to do with a "Star-Is-Born-style musical triangle, with the Astaire character, Don Hughes, latching onto Garland (Hannah Brown) while forgetting his first dance partner, Ann Miller (as Nadine Kincaid)." Tune will play the Astaire part; Duncan the Garland part. Duncan danced on Broadway in Tune's My One and Only (she replaced Twiggy).
Announcements of Easter Parade's designers and out-of-town venue are (according to Oesterman, April 14) "a couple of weeks away."
Oesterman and Tune are lifelong friends who've collaborated on 24 previous projects, including The Will Rogers Follies, Grand Hotel and Tommy Tune Tonite!. --By David Lefkowitz