This weekend may be the deciding one for whether the Richard Nelson Shaun Davey theatrical adaptation of James Joyce's short story, The Dead, reaches Broadway this season.
Co-producer Gregory Mosher (with Arielle Tepper) told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 18), "Two weeks ago, Patti LuPone said she wanted to do it. Suddenly, in all the months of planning -- where we'd never even mentioned the "B word" -- Broadway became a possibility. Then it became a question of finding a theatre. But with the sad closing of Parade, suddenly the Vivian Beaumont became potentially available."
Continued Mosher, "Last Friday Feb. 12, I spoke to Andre [Bishop] & Bernie [Gersten] at Lincoln Center. They said they might be very interested, not as a Lincoln Center production but as a rental. (Though we'd make this available to their members, etcetera.) Since then I've been on an enjoyable scramble to find the $3 million to do this on a Broadway scale. We're proceeding BUT we're not complete yet. So tomorrow (Feb. 19) we will find out whether this mad dash to take advantage of Patti's availability will pay off."
Mosher makes no secret of hoping to capitalize on what has been perceived as a weak season for new musicals. "The show doesn't need to be workshopped," he added. "It just needs a production."
Though contracts haven't been inked, LuPone's co-stars intended for the project would likely include Eileen Brennan, Sally Ann Howes, Daisy Eagan (Tony-winner for Secret Garden) and downtown diva John Kelly. Only a few weeks ago, The Dead was planned for Off-Broadway's Orensanz Center, opening April 1, with rehearsals scheduled to begin Feb. 22. (The Lower East Side's Angel Orensanz Foundation Center is fast becoming one of Off-Broadway's more popular new spaces. The former synagogue, built in 1850 by architect Alexander Saeltzer and modeled after the Cathedral of Cologne, was home to the Tyne Daly vehicle Mystery School last spring. Then, last summer, Mandy Patinkin performed his sold-out show Mamaloshen at the center, a production which subsequently transferred to Broadway's Belasco Theatre.)
Playwright Nelson (New England) adapts The Dead, and Jack Hofsiss (The Elephant Man) will direct a cast of 16. The design crew will include David Jenkins (set), Jennifer Tipton (lights) and Jane Greenwood (costumes).
"I think it's the most beautiful space I've seen in America," Mosher told Playbill On-Line in early February. "We're going to put the audience all around the action. The setting will be simple: a platform, a table for dinner and a bed."
"The Dead" is taken from Joyce's famous short story collection, "The Dubliners." The story takes place on a winter's evening in Dublin. Two elderly sisters are holding an annual holiday dance and dinner in their house. Among the guests are Gretta and Gabriel Conroy. A song sung at the gathering revives Gretta buried memories of a boy she loved as a teenager and who died young. As Gabriel listens to Gretta relate the tale of her early love, he realizes a man he never knew has had a hold on his wife's imagination for years. Gabriel grapples with the revelation that the dead - even the unknown dead -- never release their hold on the living.
The story was turned into a film in 1987, starring Angelica Huston and Donal McCann, under the direction of John Huston (the film was Huston's last.) As in the film, the theatre piece will feature singing and dancing, though Mosher is reluctant to call The Dead a musical. For now, he refers to it as a "play with music." Shaun Davey, an Irish musician, has composed a dozen songs for the show. In one number, Gretta tells the story of her lost love. The final song of the evening maps the course of Joyce's story's famous last paragraph.