The Broadway drum has begun beating for Urban Cowboy, a new musical scheduled for a workshop Dec. 6-7 at downtown's Manhattan's Westbeth Theatre Center. The show has long been eyeing a March 2002 Broadway berth, with producers Leonard Soloway and Chase Mishkin apparently hoping to start rehearsals on or around Feb. 15, 2002. The New York Post reports that the Ambassador Theatre will house the $4.5 million tuner, though director/co-author Philip Oesterman told Playbill On-Line Nov. 28 it's unlikely the show's producers will make any specific Broadway plans until they see what the workshops look like, a point echoed by general manager Victoria Stevenson, who added that the producers were definitely hoping to bring the musical in under the Tony eligibility wire for this season.
"We feel our show is so strong," said Oesterman," that after the workshop, we'll have more of a choice. But people need to see it first."
The workshop was scheduled to be held Oct. 22-Nov. 11 at Westbeth, but Oesterman required emergency open-heart surgery, Oct. 12, sending him to the hospital for a week and delaying the workshop until mid-mid December. The surgery has left Oesterman recuperated but philosophical: "In these times, who knows what's going to happen? The Broadway theatre community is facing a big mystery starting right now, after the Thanksgiving holidays. I don't think anybody knows what's going to happen."
Asked if the drop in New York City tourism owing to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will affect a seemingly broadbased, mainstream show like Urban Cowboy, Oesterman replied, "What is positive for us is that I think our show has a global audience. The movie has been popular everywhere. When we checked into our hotel room in Australia years ago to do Easter Parade, at 8 o'clock, prime time, we turned on the television, and there was Urban Cowboy, which made us feel really good. It's been a cult movie all through the South and the Southwest. I also think it's gonna be good theatre and surprise New York theatregoers who are expecting some typical, country-music, `The Train Ran Over My Dog' thing. It's really a good show, so we won't be totally dependent on tourists at all. And any good show that oepns on Broadway right now could run a year if a tourist never came to it. I don't know if tourists are coming to Urinetown or not, but it's sure doing great business. Still, God help us, things should all get back to what they were."
The Urban Cowboy workshop will feature busy actor Raul Esparza in the John Travolta role of Bud. Esparza spent the summer and fall adding poundage to his resume, jumping from the goofy guignol of Rocky Horror to the urban angst of tick, tick...Boom!, and on Oct. 26 he took over the Emcee role in Cabaret. As previously reported, the Cowboy workshop also features Sandy Duncan (Peter Pan), playing Aunt Corene opposite Reathel Bean's Uncle Bob. Newcomer Caroline McMahon is Sissy (the Debra Winger part), alongside Tom Zemon as the villainous Wes (the Scott Glenn part) and Smokey Joe's Cafe alum B.J. Crosby as Jesse. The latter, owner of the honky-tonk club Gillies, is a new character created expressly for the musical, according to director and co-author Philip Oesterman. Asked if the show's plans had been affected by the World Trade Center disaster, Oesterman said in October, "Everything is on schedule. We weren't really affected other than in our hearts and souls. Schedulewise, everything's in place, and we're just moving ahead."
Choreographing Urban Cowboy are Melinda Roy (former principal dancer with NYC Ballet) and Robert Royston.
Douglas W. Schmidt (42nd Street) is doing the set for Urban Cowboy, with David F. Segal on lighting and Urinetown's Gregory Gale on costumes. Louis St. Louis (Smokey Joe's Cafe), who wrote five songs for filmdom's "Grease 2," serves as musical director.
Back in December 1998, before he became Broadway's Tony Manero, James Carpinello participated in a reading of a new musical based on the hit film "Urban Cowboy." Little was heard publicly about the project since until Oesterman and librettist Aaron Latham (who wrote the screenplay) returned from a summer trip to Tennessee visiting the Nashville Songwriters Association, hoping to find original songs to plug into the show.
"We met with, literally, the top country writers in Nashville," Oesterman told Playbill On-Line. "We came away with more demos and CDs than we could bring; we had to mail them home. And some of the people we met are definitely writing songs for the show." That said, at this point the only tunes Oesterman would confirm would be in Urban Cowboy are the movie's "Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life?" and Johnny Lee's "Looking for Love."
Urban Cowboy had a reading at Lincoln Center in early 2000, with Footloose's Jeremy Kushnier playing Bud and Natasha Diaz playing Sissy. That summer, another workshop was held in Gloucester, MA, with David Elder (42nd Street's Billy Lawler) as Bud and Angela Pupelo as Sissy.
James Bridges' 1980 film starred John Travolta as a construction worker whose machismo doesn't quite jibe with real life. He also winds up in a love triangle (with the other points played by Debra Winger and Scott Glenn). The movie's best-known aspect is the mechanical bull customers ride at the pub Gilley's, a machine that sparked something of a craze for the nuts n' bolts bronco in bars across America.