Producer Jon Wilner told Playbill On-Line he's in negotiations to present his revised revival of the Jerry Herman musical, Mack & Mabel, at the new Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston, aiming for a January 2003 opening.
There has been no specific programming announcement yet from the still-under-construction Hobby Center, a $90 million complex that will house two theatres (one at 2,650 seats and one holding 500) and become the home of Theatre Under the Stars and touring shows. TUTS has not announced its season, either. Broadway is the goal after Houston.
Broadway could use Jerry Herman's hopeful music, including "Tap Your Troubles Away," now more than ever, and Mack & Mabel would seem to be the show to deliver it. Producer Jon Wilner had previously hoped to launch the revival about silent screen legends Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett in spring 2001 and January 2002.
Jerry Herman told Liz Smith, in an item that ran Jan. 31, he would love to see Douglas Sills (as Mack) and Kristin Chenoweth (as Mabel), with Donna McKechnie (as their brassy sidekick). In the past, Jane Krakowski and Caroline O'Connor have also been mentioned as casting possibilities for the role of Mabel.
"This new, two-theatre performing arts complex will anchor one edge of Houston's Theatre District and give nationally recognized and respected Theatre Under The Stars a permanent home in which memorable new productions such as Beauty and the Beast and Miss Saigon can be properly staged and enjoyed," according to a TUTS statement. "It will also provide a venue for other performing arts groups, schools, and non-profit organizations to become part of the cultural magic that makes Houston one of our country's most exciting places to work and live." The Hobby Center's grand opening weekend is scheduled for May 10-12, with public and private events.
Wilner had hoped to present the revised version of the 1974 cult hit in spring 2001, and even announced an opening and rehearsal dates, but a theatre was not available, so he bumped the musical comedy to the 2001-2002 season. The target is now 2003.
Famed clown Bill Irwin (Fool Moon) is attached as a special movement director for the Mack Sennett comedy sequences in the show about silent screen star Mabel Normand and director Mack Sennett.
With all due respect to the performers, Wilner said, "The only thing I learned in London [when he produced the show in 1995] is that, ultimately, the score is the star of the show."
In the previous spring 2001 plan, Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) was to play filmmaker Mack Sennett, Jane Krakowski Mabel Normand and McKechnie their brassy cohort. All three actors appeared in the 2000 concert version mounted by Reprise!, the popular musical theatre concert series in L.A.
In the planned Broadway revival, mime and movement artist Bill Irwin will stage the silent Mack Sennett sequences — live pieces that are inspired by Sennett comedies. Dan Siretta is the choreographer of the musical numbers.
Wilner previously produced an award-winning version of the show in London in 1995, and the Broadway staging would be a hybrid of various rewrites of the piece, including changes made for L.A. by Francine Pascal, sister of the show's late book writer, Michael Stewart. Wilner told Playbill On-Line that a splashy revival of Stewart and Pascal's George M! is on his plate for the future.
Sills became a sensation in the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and was booked for Broadway's Assassins before it was canceled in light of the terrorist attacks on New York City. McKechnie is the theatre legend who rose from the chorus to shine in the glory of A Chorus Line.
When originally staged in 1974 with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the show was knocked for having a score that was at odds with the dark subject matter — mostly sunny songs mixed with a tempestuous relationship between the title characters that ends with the death of Mabel.
Wilner said the storytelling has been solved and the show is now a musical comedy that better mirrors the real story. "We're not dark," he said. "Francine went back to the true story. I'd put this Mack and Mabel book next to any book for a musical. The framework is Michael Stewart and 75 percent of the book is now Francine."
Although the genesis of this planned Broadway staging is the L.A. concert, Wilner said the production will be a fully-staged show, not a concert version. The orchestra will be on stage, however. Arthur Allan Seidelman, who directed in L.A., will helm on Broadway.
Wilner, the longtime ad executive who previously produced An Evening With Jerry Herman and Groucho, said his "first choice" for costume designer would be Florence Klotz.
What attracted Wilner to the project from the beginning is what keeps fans attached to the show: "The score!" said Wilner. "It deserves a chance."
In 1974, the Gower Champion-directed musical had a 66 performance run on Broadway (and a brief tour a few years later), but a cast album achieved cult status and spawned such cabaret and concert standards as "Time Heals Everything," "Tap Your Troubles Away" and "I Won't Send Roses." A song from the London version will be added. It's called "Mabel and Mack."
— By Kenneth Jones