Barry and Fran Weissler, the unstoppable forces behind audience-pleasers Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun, are eyeing fall 1999 as the date for their production of William Finn's musical version of the classic American comedy, The Royal Family.
The valentine to theatre people and the art of unstoppable forces -- "going on," as matriarch Fanny observes in the 1927 play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber -- will be directed by Jerry Zaks. The prolific Zaks (Guys and Dolls, Smokey Joe's Cafe, The Cape Man) is currently helming The Civil War and also directed the workshop of The Royal Family in December 1998.
The original play is about the off-stage drama in the lives of an American theatrical clan, the Cavendishes, who resemble the Barrymores. The work reportedly angered Ethel Barrymore.
Aging stage actress Fanny and farceur brother, Herbert, preside over a family that includes Fanny's stage-star daughter, Julia, wastrel film star son, Tony, and Julia's ingenue daughter, Gwen. The Barrymores and Drews are the obvious models for the characters, although the authors denied the charge.
The private workshop reading in Chelsea in December 1998 was a roaring success, according to an insider who called the show, with a libretto by Richard Greenberg, "a genuine book musical." The score is not sung through, as is most of composer-lyricist William Finn's better-known work (Falsettos, A New Brain). Playwright Greenberg is the author of Three Days of Rain and Eastern Standard.
The cast for the 1998 reading, which does not necessarily reflect future casting, included Eileen Heckart as Fanny, Donna Murphy as Julia, Claire Lautier as Gwen, Remak Ramsey as Burt (Fanny's newly-named brother), Reg Rogers as Tony, Howard McGillin as Gil (Julia's love interest), Rick Holmes as Perry (Gwen's love interest), Debra Monk as Kitty (Burt's wife) and Dick Latessa as Oscar (the producer).
Anne Kaufman Schneider, daughter of George S. Kaufman, was present at the reading.
At one time, Tommy Tune was attached to the project, which was once called The Royal Family of Broadway.