It's been a hectic week for director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun, who is currently helming the workshop of Brooklyn, a new musical by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson that will play New York's Signature Theatre on Sept. 12 and 13 at 2 and 5:30 PM each day.
Due to overwhelming scheduling conflicts — including her current gig in Harlem Song — B.J. Crosby recently withdrew from the workshop, which features the talents of Kevin Anderson, who starred as Joe Gillis in the London premiere of Sunset Boulevard; David Jennings (Ragtime, Miss Saigon); Karen Olivo (Rent) ; and newcomer Eden Esponosa in the title role. Crosby has been replaced by Broadway veteran Arnetia Walker, who has starred on The Great White Way in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, The Wiz and Dreamgirls.
In addition to the cast change, Kevin Anderson was unable to attend the first week of rehearsals because of a sudden offer to star in an independent film. All that aside, however, Calhoun remains extremely enthusiastic about the project. In fact, Calhoun told PBOL Sept. 6, "It's thrilling. It's just so far beyond my wildest dreams. Our biggest problem right now," he continued "is trying to get permission from Actors' Equity to have more performances because the RSVP reaction has just overwhelmed [workshop co-producer John] McDaniel and myself. We just don't have enough seats!" Actors Equity only allows four performances for a workshop; Calhoun would like to add two more to accommodate the high demand.
The former Grease! choreographer also said, "John McDaniel and my name are on the invitation inviting people [to the workshop]. We've been getting calls from producers assuming John and I are [planning to produce a Broadway run] and that we're not looking for producers, which is kind of ironic, because the whole reason we're doing this is to find producers."
* The five-person company of Brooklyn will be accompanied by a six piece band under the direction of Alex Lacamoire, who was the musical director for Off Broadway's Bat Boy. Calhoun explained that the workshop, which is closed to the public, serves a dual purpose. "One is to refine and work on the material," he said. "You can only work on it on the page for so long, and then you need to see it up on its feet. It will give us an opportunity to look at the musical onstage. The second objective is to raise the money [for a future production]."
Best known for his direction and Tony-nominated choreography for the hit 1994 revival of Grease!, Calhoun also collaborated with Tommy Tune on The Will Rogers Follies and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. He made his Broadway directorial debut with Tommy Tune Tonite! and choreographed the Faith Prince revival of Bells Are Ringing. In an earlier PBOL interview, Calhoun discussed his love for Brooklyn. "I really believe I've been waiting and training my whole life for this project," he said. "It is that amazing mix of commerce with high artistry, and it's hard to find something that can deliver both."
Calhoun explained that the piece was initially brought to him by Paula Holt, who was the President and Artistic Director of Los Angeles' Tiffany Theatres. "It's written by this amazing man [Mark Schoenfeld] who was homeless, who survived on the kindness of strangers. That inspired him to write this story, and it's written from a homeless point of view about the homeless. [Schoenfeld] wrote everything — book, music and lyrics — [with his writing partner Barri McPherson]." Described as a morality tale of a "beautiful, young Parisian songstress, whose fame and fortune could not fill the emptiness of her soul," the new musical is set in Brooklyn, New York, and will transport audiences from the New York City borough to Paris and back.
An eclectic mix of soul and pop music with a bit of classic American tunes and opera thrown into the stew, Brooklyn possesses "the best score I've heard since Dreamgirls," Calhoun said. "It's a remarkable score, and I love when shows feel like they have their finger on the pulse of what's happening. I love the music of yesteryear, I really do, but I also like it when [there is music] you could actually listen to in your apartment and not have to be in the business to enjoy. I would love kids who do not live in New York and are not interested into going into show business to want to listen to this at home in their rooms. The music is just incredibly accessible. Certainly, my generation is going to love it, and I think younger people as well."
—By Andrew Gans