Virus Vanquished, Benanti Rejoins MTC's Time and Again

News   Virus Vanquished, Benanti Rejoins MTC's Time and Again We all know time how flies, but for Laura Benanti, Time flu.

We all know time how flies, but for Laura Benanti, Time flu.

The young actress, recently profiled in the New York Times, appeared in the Jan. 30 opening-night performance of the new musical Time and Again at Off Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club but then sat out the following night owing to a contagious stomach virus. Betsi Morrison, Benanti's understudy, took over, but Benanti returned to the show Thursday, Feb. 1, according to a production spokesperson at Boneau/Bryan-Brown. Jeff Edgerton, however, was out Feb. 1 due to sickness and was covered by Gregg Goodbrod, whose role was taken by a swing.

Benanti plays Julia Charbonneau, a 19th-century protofeminist who catches the eye of time-traveler Simon Morley (played by Lewis Cleale). Cast members privately told Playbill On-Line that Benanti was ailing on opening night, but she went on, earning cheers.

Benanti, 21, has been celebrated recently for her clarion singing voice and her depth and sensitivity as an actress. She earned a Tony Award nomination for Swing! and appeared as Maria in The Sound of Music, after Rebecca Luker originated the role in revival. She played Eileen in the Encores! concert revival of Wonderful Town.

* Following tweaks, cuts, changes and additions in its preview period, the New York debut of Skip Kennon and Jack Viertel's musical opened Jan. 30 at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II. Reviews appearing Jan. 31 were largely negative, with The Philadelphia Inquirer posting a rave.

Many of those who hoped to see this chamber version of the long-aborning musical were out in the cold in January: The romantic time-travel musical based on the novel by Jack Finney has been sold out since previews began Jan. 9. Tickets are 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. Time and Again will not extend because the new musical revue, Newyorkers, starts there Feb. 27. Rehearsals for that show began Jan. 30.

In previews, Time and Again'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. Susan H. Schulman (The Secret Garden, Violet, The Sound of Music) directs, Rob Ashford choreographs.

All parties are 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. Presumably, scenic, casting and musical elements would be enhanced for any Broadway staging.

At MTC, Matt Eisenstein was conductor-pianist, and Eugene Gwozdz was on the second piano.

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The show, with a score by composer-lyricist Walter Edgar 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).

Waiting in the wings to take the show to any next step are producers Thomas Viertel, Steven Baruch and Richard Frankel, who initiated the project.

Schulman directs a cast that 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.

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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 Walter Edgar "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 in the show's workshop included "At the Theatre," "Who Would Have Thought It?," "She Dies," "The Lady in the Harbor," "Who Are You Anyway?" "Si's Soliloquy," "For Those You Love," "The Music Of Love," "Time and Time Again," "The Right Look," "I Know This House" and more. Some tweaks and revisions have been made since the 1999 workshop.

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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) transfers 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.