Easter Sunday may have come and gone but not Irving Berlin's Easter Parade, which held backer auditions at Off-Broadway's John Houseman Theatre in June and is hoping to begin rehearsals Jan.-Feb. 1999.
As reported by Theatrical Index, the show, which held a five-week workshop in a Greenwich Village rehearsal studio (May-June), is now in the hands of the Nederlanders, rather than its original producing group of Steven Baruch, Richard Frankel, Thomas Viertel & Marc Routh.
Reached by phone in L.A., librettist and director Philip Oesterman told Playbill On-Line the show was no longer targeting Eastertime 1999 for its Broadway debut. Instead, Easter Parade plans on a longish tour, winding up on Broadway in fall 1999 -- pushing it into the 1999-00 season.
Easter Parade was to have begun out-of-town tryouts in December 1998 at The 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company in Seattle (the show is still listed on schedules there), but Oesterman says the new itinerary makes the date extremely unlikely, especially since "we need a good six weeks at the first theatre we go to for the tour." Weeks earlier, the director told Playbill On-Line, "We wanted to premiere in Houston, since Tommy and I are native sons, and Frank [Young, president and CEO of Theatre Under The Stars] said he could find us a venue up until Aug. 31. But we couldn't guarantee that we'd be ready by then, not with the script and especially not with the sets that will have to be built after the script is set." At the very least, Oesterman had hoped for the premiere to occur somewhere in Texas because all the major players in front of and behind the stage are form the Lone Star State.
* Easter Parade workshopped its first act, for friends and producers, at Houston, TX's Theatre Under the Stars a year ago. Then star and co-director Tommy Tune brought the show to Australia (Nov.-Dec. 1997). "It was a huge disappointment," Oesterman admitted to Playbill On-Line's Texas correspondent Peter Szatmary. The musical was never given a major production Down Under, Oesterman said, partly because no theatres were available in the city of choice, Sydney.
The recent NY workshop concentrated on the show's second act. "Tommy and I have been working and learning from our experience in Australia," Oesterman told Playbill On-Line (May 11). "I added a new character who wasn't in the movie, Maxine Moonlight, and she's played by KT Sullivan." Sullivan, a noted cabaret singer, starred in the Goodspeed Opera's Broadway revival of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Rhonda Burchmore has been mentioned for a supporting role.
Back in April, Oesterman went into more detail about Easter Parade. "It's still the same sweet romance, but the tone is different, broader, more contemporary. We're focusing more on the relationship of the lead characters, as performers and as lovers. The Peter Lawford character has been taken out, for instance." Just about all of Irving Berlin's songs, however, remain.
In addition to writing the book, Oesterman is co-directing Easter Parade with Tune, who's starring in the Fred Astaire role alongside Sandy Duncan in the Judy Garland part. Oesterman is a longtime Tune work partner, having teamed with the multiple Tony Award-winner on more than 20 productions, including My One and Only, Grand Hotel, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and The Will Rogers Follies!
Tad Tadlock co-choreographs Easter Parade alongside Tune. Songs in IBEP include the title tune, "Shakin' The Blues Away," and "We're a Couple of Swells." Reached June 27, 1997, Oesterman confirmed a NY Daily News report that the workshop staging had used a series of frames as its motif. The show still uses some of that concept, but it's not the main visual idea.
Easter Parade for the stage began with a nod from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which controls the Irving Berlin catalogue, Oesterman said. The producers approached Tune, asking to work with him on whatever he wanted from Berlin's oeuvre. Looking for a vehicle to replace the ill-fated Buskers (to which Oesterman contributed in later phases), Tune chose Easter Parade.
Other writers were initially involved in creating the Easter Parade book, but Oesterman said he was so displeased with the results he took over the task himself. When he finished the first draft, he called Tune up, told him to come over and read it right then. It's been through many rewrites since.
According to Leonard Maltin's TV Movies & Video Guide, the story of the 1948 film of Easter Parade has 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).
The delays on Easter Parade have also affected another Oesterman project, Take This Show and Shove It, a campy country-western revue-cum-musical about a family of eccentric crooners: a red-hot momma, her two hot-and-sassy daughters, and her outrageous drag queen son. Oesterman co-wrote, co-directed, and co-choreographed Take This Show and Shove It, which uses as its score country-western standards by the likes of Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Clint Black, and even Cole Porter ("Don't Fence Me In").
The show was recently renamed Don't Tell Mama and is currently playing at Hollywood's Cinegrill through Aug. 15.