The five-show Signature season includes the musical theatre debut of pop writer Jill Sobule (known for "I Kissed a Girl"), a Ken Ludwig-penned rewrite of the Hecht- MacArthur showbiz comedy, Twentieth Century, and revivals of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Elephant Man.
Artistic director Eric Schaeffer will direct Allegro, which, when it debuted in 1947, was a stark, theatrical, Our Town-like morality musical about the life of a doctor, from birth to death.
It was a rare original story for the team of lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and composer Richard Rodgers. It has been suggested that there were echoes of Hammerstein's own life and world-view in the deeply personal musical. Allegro would turn out to be an ultimately unsatisfying show for the audience and the writers, and has not yet been "solved" in a way that guarantees it a major future life in stock, regional and amateur markets. It ran 315 performances and spawned a cast album ("The Gentleman Is a Dope" and "A Fellow Needs a Girl" are from the score).
This new revival has new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and a revised book by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change). A few seasons back, Richard Nelson penned a rewrite, interpolating elements of Hammerstein's life in the show, but the script was shelved after a private exploratory reading.
A concert version of the show was presented by City Center's Encores! series in 1994. A teen-aged Stephen Sondheim served as a production assistant on the original show. Also on the season is a world-premiere musical, The Next Gig, by and starring pop-folk songwriter and singer Jill Sobule, directed by Eric Schaeffer. The song, "I Kissed a Girl," made Sobule a household name, and in 2003-04 she comes to Signature to create a show using both existing songs and new work. She'll perform with Signature regular Sherri Edelen "in a cross-country journey that delves into the very heart of America." The show attempts to "uncover the humor, wit and spirit of two very different women struggling to find common ground."
Schaeffer will direct the new version of Twentieth Century, the 1932 Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur play being adapted by Ken Ludwig (Crazy for You, Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo). The play is set aboard the sleek rail liner, the Twentieth Century, Ltd., as a desperate producer tries to lure his movie-star ex to a new project (the play might be best known for its 1934 movie version, with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, or as the Comden-Green-Coleman musical, On the Twentieth Century).
Chicago director Gary Griffin (Pacific Overtures at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and Donmar Warehouse) helms Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Joe Calarco staged Bernard Pomerance's The Elephant Man.
Exact dates are to be determined. Signature works or artists have been nominated for 157 Helen Hayes Awards, winning 35, including Outstanding Musical in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000 and Outstanding Play in 1999. Over the past decade, the troupe made a national reputation with refreshing, intimate revivals of the works of Stephen Sondheim. Shaffer's directorial credits outside of the DC area include Putting It Together on Broadway, London's The Witches of Eastwick and the revised national tour of the musical, big. He is attached to Manhattan Theatre Club's The Rhythm Club next in 2003-04; that musical started at Signature.
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Signature Theatre is a non-profit professional theatre dedicated to producing contemporary plays and musicals and to the development of new work. The theatre was honored by the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation for "its artistic vision and commitment to the support and development of musical theatre artists."