A new musical version of Oscar Wilde's darkly witty story, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," begins previews at the Buell Theatre in Denver Sept. 12, and there are hopes the show — called Dorian Gray — will have a future on tour and in New York.
Denver Center Attractions, the presenting and producing arm of Denver Center for the Performing Arts, is giving the musical a home at the Buell for three weeks, and independent producers and bookers are likely to travel to Denver to see if other markets might be interested in the sexy, pop-music-driven story of youth, beauty and corruption. MB Artists and Berwood Productions, in conjunction with The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, are presenting the production.
Robert Cuccioli, star of Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde, will play Henry Lord in the world premiere. Matt Cavenaugh (of the upcoming Urban Cowboy musical) stars as the title character, who sells his soul to remain young and beautiful, while his portrait in the attic ages hideously.
The work is conceived, co-written, directed and choreographed by James J. Mellon, with a book by Mellon and Duane Poole and music and lyrics by Mellon and Scott DeTurk. It opens Sept. 17 following previews. Performances continue to Sept. 29.
Moved from 19th-century England to New Orleans in the late 20th century, Dorian "is a contemporary adaptation of Wilde's haunting tale of love and betrayal — of obsession and redemption," according to production notes. "Set against the backdrop of Mardi Gras and boasting a musical score of jazz and blues, Dorian is filled with 'Wildesque' humor and heart-wrenching emotion." The show roughly spans 1980-2000. Randy Weeks, executive director of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts said he has been "captivated" by the show since its workshop reading in Los Angeles in 1999. Two readings in New York followed, Mellon told Playbill On-Line. The goal after Denver is Broadway, he said.
In the cast of 26, Cuccioli plays Henry Lord (the character is Lord Henry in the novel). The work also stars Armelia McQueen (of the original Ain't Misbehavin') as Mama Vane and Nikki Renee Daniels as Celia Vane.
"It's a very conceptual show, very concept-driven," Mellon said. "The whole play takes place in Dorian's attic, and the attic — through a very brilliant set design — transports us into the mansion, the levee, a painter's workshop, a gallery, and a club called The Rooster, where Armelia McQueen comes into the picture."
Mellon called the show a book musical, not "a sing through." The Wilde story originally concerned Dorian's love for a common girl, but in 1980s New Orleans, Dorian is a rich boy who falls for a black girl "from the bywater," Mellon said. The novel famously describes Dorian's painted portrait aging hideously as he remains young and beautiful (the opening scene of the new show offers a bit of beefcake from hunky Cavenaugh).
"The music is 'musical theatre,' but it has a real blues and New Orleans jazz feel," Mellon said. "The point of bringing it to New Orleans was that it's hard to buy, in the contemporary world, the idea of pictures growing old while we stay perfect, but New Orleans has this mystical, spiritual voodoo sense to it. [It] takes place during Mardi Gras...and then 20 years later on the same night."
The musical is drawn from the stylish 1891 novel: Isolated in a single room during his childhood, Dorian Gray inherits his grandfather's vast fortune and finds freedom in a decadent society that craves to exploit his innocence. Yearning to preserve his youthful beauty, Dorian forfeits his soul so his framed portrait ages while he remains forever young.
Designers are Robert L. Smith (set and lighting), Scott A. Lane (costumes), Kurt Fischer (sound) and Bruce Coughlin (the Tony nominated orchestrator of Urinetown).
Creator Mellon made his Broadway debut as Riff in West Side Story, directed by Jerome Robbins. He toured the country as Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street. Off-Broadway, he starred in the revival of The Voice of the Turtle as well as I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road. He has worked at such theatres as The Goodspeed Opera House, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. He created the "expanded" production of The Fantasticks, starring Greater Tuna stars Joe Sears and Jaston Williams at Ford's Theatre. He staged the New York workshop of his original musical, An Unfinished Song, as well as the subsequent Boston production at the Charles Playhouse and the Los Angeles premiere at the Tiffany Theatre. He choreographed Off-Broadway's Finkle's Follies, starring Fyvush Finkle. As a writer, Mellon received three Los Angeles Drama-Logue Awards for his book, music and lyrics to The Dreamer and The Runner (an earlier version of An Unfinished Song). He penned the screenplay to "Bird of Prey," starring Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Tilly and Lesley Ann Warren, released in the fall of 1996.
Co-composer and lyricist DeTurk is a San Francisco resident who received the Bay Area's Arty award for musical direction on his musical version of The Ghost and Mrs Muir. He received the Elly award as co composer/lyricist for the musical, Western Star, which is currently in publication with Music Theatre International.
Co-author Poole has had an extensive career writing for television on numerous hit series and television . His first feature, the erotic psychological thriller "Shattered Image" (starring Anne Parillaud and Billy Baldwin), was released in 1998 and selected for the Toronto, Venice, and Montreal Film Festivals, and he's currently one of the producers of an upcoming Universal Pictures big-screen version of "Ray Bradbury's The Martin Chronicles." Poole is also preparing the book for a new musical in collaboration with Amanda McBroom.
Newcomer Cavenaugh is currently starring as Ren McCormack in Footloose at TBTS. He has toured the U.S. and Canada with Ragtime, Strike Up the Band and Grease. Matt is a graduate of Ithaca College and a native of Arkansas.
MB Artists is run by Kevin Bailey and James B. Mellon. For more information, visit www.dorianthemusial.com.
The Oscar Wilde novel has been musicalized before. Indeed, there's a concurrent musical version playing in Fort Collins, CO, the same time as Dorian. Composer Edward Reyes and lyricist-librettist Thomas Sheehan's Dorian Gray got its world premiere Aug. 24 by Open Stage Theatre, in Fort Collins. The cast of 24 directed by Los Angeles-based director Jules Aaron continues through Sept. 21 at Lincoln Center. The show was previously seen in readings in L.A. A concert version was seen in 1997.
That production's website it www.doriangraythemusical.org.
In an authors' note on the website, the creators write, "In our adaptation we have given musical voice to the principal characters from the novel. We have combined and enlarged others: for example, Victoria, Henry's wife, now is a major role. We have also given the portrait itself a prominent place in the unfolding musical dialogue. Dorian has a series of musical interactions with the portrait that serve as signposts along his trajectory of evil. Tose who have died because of him reappear as ghosts, haunting him until the end."
In 2000, Goodspeed Musicals staged composer-lyricist librettist Richard Gleaves' Dorian at The Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT. Tom Stuart played the youth-obsessed title character, with Nancy Anderson as Sybil Vane, Tom Souhrada is Basil Hallward and Tom Flynn as Lord Henry Wooten. The company also included future Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster. Gabriel Barre directed.
The Gleaves musical was first developed by Goodspeed in partnership with the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and presented in a 1997 staged reading at Goodspeed-at-Chester and in 1998 at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival of New Musicals.
There is also an opera called The Picture of Dorian Gray, which had its American premiere by Florentine Opera in Milwaukee in spring 1999.
— By Kenneth Jones