Time and Again's time in New York City is up Feb. 18, when the musical by Jack Viertel and Walter Edgar Kennon ends its six-week run at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II.
The romantic science-fiction musical inspired by the novel by Jack Finney was sold out before it began performances on Jan. 9. The official opening Jan. 30 was followed by a flood of negative reviews in the New York dailies and magazines. Critics, in a collective sour mood, fell over themselves seeking adjectives to curse a show that many in the audience and industry had regarded as having one of the craftier scores in recent seasons. The bad reviews had the negative effect of some ticket cancellations, leaving room on a cancellation line for the musical theatre buffs who wanted to judge the work for themselves. (For the record, The Philadelphia Inquirer gave the show a rave.)
Workshop readings of the show were enthusiastically embraced in 1999 in New York City, and there was a hope for an eventual Broadway bow. Thomas Viertel, one of the producers who first initiated the project, told The New York Times there are no longer hopes to take Time and Again to Broadway.
The preview period saw tweaks, cuts, changes and additions by the collaborators and director Susan H. Schulman (Violet, The Secret Garden) and choreographer Rob Ashford. Tickets were scarce because the staging at the 150-seat Off-Broadway venue had to satisfy both MTC subscribership and the many industry folk trying to assess the show. In previews, the show's Act One number, "The Primary Source," was replaced by "Standing in the Middle of the Road." The training scene in which the time traveler learns how to "go back" has also been abbreviated and clarified in previews, according to insiders.
All parties were privately hoping the intimate 15-actor staging of Time and Again, which has two pianos as its orchestra, will get a commercial transfer to Broadway, add an orchestra, increase ensemble by perhaps 6-10 members, and include more sophisticated effects and set values. The Great White Way has been the aim of the musical since it had a tryout at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1996. Scenic, casting and musical elements would have been enhanced for any Broadway staging.
The show, with a score by composer-lyricist Walter Edgar ("Skip") Kennon and a book by Jack Viertel, concerns a modern New Yorker, Si Morley (Lewis Cleale), who is transported back in time at the request of Dr. Danziger (played by David McCallum), who heads a secret government project. Illustrator Si travels back to the 1880s and falls in love with Julia (Laura Benanti), complicating his modern-day romance with Kate (played by Julia Murney).
Thomas Viertel, Steven Baruch and Richard Frankel were the attached producers who initiated the project.
The cast includes Lauren Ward, Joseph Kolinski, Melissa Rain Anderson, Ann Arvia, Jeff Edgerton, Eric Michael Gillett, Gregg Goodbrod, Christopher Innvar, Patricia Kilgarriff, George Masswohl and Amy Walsh.
Kevin Stites (Titanic, On the Town) musical-directs. Stites and Schulman ran the May 1999 workshop of the tuner. Kathleen Marshall choreographed the workshop; Ashford has that duty now. Rehearsals began Dec. 4, 2000, in Manhattan.
A spring 2000 Broadway production date had been eyed for Time and Again, but that never materialized. The May 1999 workshop was presented by Steven Baruch, Thomas Viertel, Richard Frankel, Marc Routh, Dede Harris/Jeslo Productions, Metropolitan Entertainment Group, Nederlander Organization, Liz Oliver and Anne Strickland Squadron.
Songwriter Skip Kennon, who wrote Herringbone with lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh, is the former artistic coordinator of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Observers of the Time and Again workshop and those who know the demo recording that has circulated through the industry regard the piece as faithful to the tone of the novel (which is so popular it's still in print after 30 years) and rich with humanity and melody. It's generally considered one of the strongest unproduced scores of recent years.
Songs include "At the Theatre," "Who Would Have Thought It?," "She Dies," "The Lady in the Harbor," "Who Are You Anyway?" "For Those You Love," "The Music Of Love," "Time and Time Again," "The Right Look," "I Know This House" and more. Revisions have been made since the 1999 workshop.
The late Jack Finney's 1970 novel — a genuine pop classic — includes prosaic, detailed descriptions of New York City life at the end of the 19th and 20th centuries. "From Time to Time" was a sequel that used the same characters. His best known work might be "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
MTC's Stage II has been fertile soil lately: Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife made its debut there in 1999-2000 and moved to Broadway, and A Class Act (which played there in fall 2000) transferred to the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway Feb. 14.
To see Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter with David McCallum, which ran in August 2000, click here.
Next up at MTC Stage II is the urban musical revue, Newyorkers, billed as "a musical collage," by Stephen Weiner and Glenn Slater starting Feb 27.
— By Kenneth Jones