Otis Sallid, who co-conceived and provided additional staging for the popular 1995 musical revue Smokey Joe's Café, is spearheading the project.
"For the last four years, I've been trying to get this production up and running," he told Playbill.com by phone. "It's always hard to get Phylicia and Debbie on board for the same thing. I thought it would be a brilliant, brilliant idea to get Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad in a Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace. They, at this point, have agreed to do it."
Sallid, who will direct the production, is in the midst of acquiring the first-class rights to the play by Joseph O. Kesselring — and claimed that has been the main hold on the play's journey back to Broadway.
"There's a lot of interest in it, so we're trying to move it forward," he said and added that he is talking to designers and theatres to mount the project in 2015-16. Long Wharf Theatre and Huntington Theatre Company have expressed interest to produce.
As for other creatives, Sallid's dream team would include William Ivey Long for costumes, Santo Loquasto for set design and Herbie Hancock for original interstitial music. Thus far, no one has been "inked" yet. "They're very brilliant artists and directors in their own right," Sallid said of sisters Rashad and Allen (but added that it would not be a "full-black production"). "And, for the most obvious reason, they're already sisters. They would be a box-office draw, and they're really good at what they do. And, I think they can understand a project such as this."
Here's how Sallid bills it on his website: "The play is a farcical black comedy revolving around Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic who must deal with his crazy, homicidal family and local police in Brooklyn, NY, as he debates whether to go through with his recent promise to marry the woman he loves. His family includes two spinster aunts who have taken to murdering lonely old men by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and 'just a pinch' of cyanide; a brother who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and digs locks for the Panama Canal in the cellar of the Brewster home (which then serve as graves for the aunts' victims); and a murderous brother who has received plastic surgery performed by an alcoholic accomplice, Dr. Einstein (a character based on real-life gangland surgeon Joseph Moran) to conceal his identity and now looks like horror-film actor Boris Karloff (a self-referential joke, as the part was originally played by Karloff). The film adaptation follows the same basic plot, with a few minor changes. It is customary, after the cast takes several curtain calls, for the final one to finish with the 'murder victims' (often well-known local personalities) entering from the basement and joining the cast for the final bow."