With an Eye Toward Broadway, Little Mary Sunshine Gets NYC Readings July 18-19

News   With an Eye Toward Broadway, Little Mary Sunshine Gets NYC Readings July 18-19 Sarah Rice, Marni Nixon and Richard White will sing in July 18-19 Manhattan readings of the sweet musical comedy spoof, Little Mary Sunshine, which producer John Hiller hopes to take to Broadway in 2003-04.

Sarah Rice, Marni Nixon and Richard White will sing in July 18-19 Manhattan readings of the sweet musical comedy spoof, Little Mary Sunshine, which producer John Hiller hopes to take to Broadway in 2003-04.

Rice, who created the role of Johanna in the original Sweeney Todd, plays Mary Potts, the lass who gets involved with Colorado mountain rangers, Indians and others in the cult hit by Ric Besoyan. She told Playbill On-Line the reading represents "the happiest two hours I have ever experienced. The sound of the voices are thrilling, the music is glorious and the actors are funny and touching. People are having such a good time doing this that their cheeks hurt from smiling so much."

Rice and husband Hiller have spearheaded the plan for the Broadway revival of the 1959 Off-Broadway show that is a staple in regional, stock and amateur theatres. The original work played more than 1,000 performances Off-Broadway and spawned a cast album, but has never played Broadway.

Jamie Rocco directs the reading. Legendary orchestrator Jonathan Tunick conducts. MadjaLook Productions is producing and inviting potential investors.

White plays Big Jim Warington, captain of the forest rangers; Mike Daisey is Corporal Billy Jester, a forest ranger; soprano Rice is Mary Potts, proprietress of the Colorado Inn; Marni Nixon (James Joyce's The Dead and a film legend for her vocal work in "My Fair Lady" and other pictures) plays Mme. Ernestine von Liebedich, an opera singer; Jenna Esposito is Nancy Twinkle, Little Mary's maid; Hal Robinson (Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief) is General Uncle Oscar Fairfax, a Washington diplomat. The reading features Chapman Roberts as Chief Brown Bear, Chief of the Kadota Indians; Edmound Fitzpatrick as Fleet Foot, an Indian guide; Doug Wynn as Yellow Feather, Chief Brown Bear's son; Edmound Fitzpatrick, Brad Lohrenz, Tom Lucca, Patrick Ratchford, Doug Wynn, Kyle Bradford as Young Gentlemen of The United States Forest Rangers; Susan Derry, Kelly M. Esposito, Grace Greig, Tiffany Hampton, Barbie Harger, Shelby Rose as The Young Ladies of the Eastchester Finishing School.

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The musical pays comic homage to silent-era film romances and operettas — the kind in which Colorado forest rangers fall in love with kindly innkeepers. Hiller and his collaborators are aiming at Broadway in 2002-2003, with a planned capitalization of $10 million.

John Hiller, Sarah Rice and Paul Jackel are producing partners in Madjalook Productions, and hold the Broadway rights to the musical comedy written by the late lyricist-librettist-composer Besoyan. The show is designed as a vehicle for Rice.

Visit www.littlemarysunshine-bway.com .

The musical opened at Off-Broadway's Orpheum Theatre in 1959 and played 1,143 performances. The original two-piano arrangement was expanded for orchestra for a cast album. Orchestrations are by Arnold Goland. Hiller told Playbill On Line a full orchestra of 26 is part of the budget for the new production, which will have a cast of 22.

The book of the show has been tweaked to make references to Native Americans more politically correct, Hiller said. A villainous character named Yellowfeather is interested in Mary.

"There are good guys and bad guys in this: The bad guy is a Native American, called Yellowfeather," Hiller said. "The Besoyan estate that controls the rights put a change in the script. All the fake 'Indian-speak' has been taken out."

A member of the Lakota Tribe was consulted on changes in the script.

The story takes place in a 24-hour period in which the characters all fall in love, in the Rocky Mountains. The visual concept for the show is 1900-era art nouveau, a world of Maxfield Parrish and Louis Comfort Tifffany, Rice said. Howard Barker (the show's original designer and co-producer) is attached a scenic designer.

The idea for reviving the show for a major production was Rice's. She said she has loved the show for years, since she performed it as a teenager in a church production.

The show's presence in the regional, school and amateur market is not small. "The market is seeded," Hiller said. "There have been tens of thousands of productions. This is a proven property."

A Broadway house of about 1,400 seats is on the wish list and an out of town regional tryout is possible, Hiller said.

Rice, an opera and musical theatre soprano who wowed Broadway with her Johanna in Sweeney Todd in 1979, avoided the word "operetta" and "spoof" when discussing Little Mary Sunshine, but with song titles such as "Do You Ever Dream of Vienna?," "In Izzenschnooken on the Lovely Ezzenzook Zee" and "Colorado Love Call," Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy can't be too far away.

"What Little Mary is — it's really about icons, certain archetypes," Rice said. "If you look at the silent movies, there's the impossibly pure heroine who was embodied by people like Mary Pickford...and the impossibly handsome, virile leading man..."

But, she said, "The thing with the piece is, you can't do it 'camp.' We are definitely not going the camp route. People take the show on two levels: There will be some people who understand the humor and some who take the show as it is — people who never saw Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy [movies] love the show!"

Rice said the show will offer actors to opportunity to be special, and to exhibit personalities, like in the old days.

"The thing that has distressed me about Broadway for the last 10 years is that there were huge productions with cookie-cutter performances — personalities were not allowed to emerge," Rice observed. "It's been very frustrating to see that. We wanted to allow off center personalities to emerge."

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According to this production's official Little Mary Sunshine website, Besoyan's "theatrical works, Off Broadway and on Broadway, were small in number—just three musicals and one cabaret revue. However...Little Mary Sunshine...has had, at last count, more than a hundred thousand showings in all 50 of the United States and 30 foreign countries."

Besoyan's credits include the night club revue, In Your Hat, which sowed the seeds of Little Mary Sunshine. He followed Little Mary with The Student Gypsy, or The Prince of Liederkranz (Broadway) and Babes in the Wood (Off-Broadway).

At the time of his death, he had completed a full-scale musical version of Paul Gallico's Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. It was never produced, according to the website.

— By Kenneth Jones