In April 1997, a new stage version of the 1948 film musical Easter Parade went into a five-week rehearsal/workshop, directed by Tommy Tune. That mounting went so well, the show looks Broadway bound, though the creators are taking the development process step-by-step.
The next step may be out of the U.S.: to Australia. Despite earlier hopes of bringing a workshop of Irving Berlin's Easter Parade to a venue in Tune's home state of Texas, November may see the show in Australia. Librettist Philip Oesterman told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 18), "They're working all this out. I'd love it to come to Australia. As far as Houston goes, the Music Hall is being torn down for a new theatre, and that won't be ready till 2,000-something. There's still a possibility of Jones Hall, but Houston won't be this year. Either way, if Australia happens, it would go there first. Australia would literally be our out of town try-out -- we haven't even done act two yet. Anyway, Tommy [Tune] went there recently and just loved it. We would hope to go there with a workshop. Plus we need time to familiarize ourselves with their staff, look at theatres. I think the Australian producers (including John Frost) would like to get a look at the show, too."
Another reason for the down-under choice is the selection of a third cast member to join Tune and Sandy Duncan, Australian Rhonda Burchmore, who will, says Oesterman, have "the Ann Miller role." Burchmore's credits include Hot Shoe Shuffle, Stop The World... and Sugar Babies in London and is known for her work on Australian television.
With songs by Irving Berlin and a book by Oesterman, Irving Berlin's Easter Parade will star Duncan (Peter Pan, My One and Only) and Tune, in his first Broadway-bound project since Busker Alley closed out of town and he left The Royal Family behind. Tune and Oesterman co-direct; Tune and Tad Lock co-choreograph. (By the way, Tune's memoirs, titled "Foot Notes," are due in the fall.) According to Theatrical Index, The Swells Company will produce IBEP through its workshop phase.
Songs in IBEP include the title tune, "Shakin' The Blues Away," and "We're a couple o' Swells." Oesterman anticipated the show reaching Broadway in early spring 1998. Asked about the show's creative progress since the first reading, Oesterman said (Aug. 18), "Up till now, just the usual. I've finished rewrites on the first act; I'm now working on the second."
Before the talk of Australia, the first pre-Broadway stop was to have been a developmental production (for an invited audience) at Theatre Under The Stars in Houston, 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.
Reached June 27, Oesterman confirmed the Daily News report that the workshop staging had used a series of frames as its motif. However, he told Playbill On-Line, "It's still a very early concept of the visual production, and I can't really say much more. It's just too vulnerable right now, and I feel uncomfortable trying to talk about the show in this process. Our path is not clear yet." Tune and Duncan remain the only players officially cast, and negotiations are still underway for venues and dates."
Asked if the good word of mouth on the workshop has hastened the show's progress, Oesterman replied, "I don't think things move that quickly -- certainly not on Broadway. I hope the next step is a workshop of the second act. We haven't seen it yet -- we've only read it. We'd like to do it before the summer ends, because once you get it up there, you can really look at it. Right now we're concentrating on Tommy and Sandy's relationship. We're learning what that is." "The workshop is not to have a finished product," Oesterman continued. "We made minor changes in the first act, not big, structural ones. But you you now have to make the second act fit with the new first act. It's a lot of hard work, but we're eager to get the second act on its feet."
One thing Oesterman could talk about was Duncan's gustatorial prowess: "She brings the best munchies to rehearsal of anybody on earth," Oestermann said. "She had a little place in the rehearsal area -- Sandy's condo, we call it -- and we'd all invade when hunger it. She brought these things -- they're dried berries, cranberries and blueberries, they're just so good and I guess, good for you."
Back in April, when asked about the rehearsal process, Oesterman told Playbill On-Line things were smooth and "happy happy happy," and that each rehearsal began 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 thought one reason things were running so smoothly was that he, director Tune, star Duncan, and co-choreographer 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 Cooke 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.
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).
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