The long-awaited Don Schlitz/Ken Ludwig Broadway musical, Tom Sawyer, will have a world premiere run at the Shubert New Haven in Connecticut before transferring to Broadway next season.
Tom Sawyer starts previews at the Shubert New Haven Feb. 27, 2001 and opens March 4. The subscription run goes through March 17. Plans are for the musical to transfer to an unnamed Broadway theatre in time for the 2000-2001 Tony eligibility deadline.
Schlitz wrote the songs for the show, and the book was written by Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You). The show will be directed by Scott Ellis, with musical direction by Paul Gemignani. Although 1999 and 2000 readings have been held for the musical, final casting for Tom Sawyer is still being decided, sources said.
Producers for the show are The Nederlander Organization and Watt/Dobie Productions.
Addressing a small group of producers and press gathered at the New Haven theatre on June 12, composer Don Schlitz referenced the fact that the musical was adapted from Mark Twain's classic novel and said he hoped the show was good enough that Twain would have been able to say, "Yeah, that's from my book." Schlitz sang three songs from the show, two from the Shubert stage and another during a press reception at the theatre. Each of the compositions reflected the composer's style and the years of work said to have gone into the development of the show. More than one member of the audience said they were emotionally moved by Schlitz's "first love" ballad, which was written for the characters Tom and Becky.
Shubert New Haven's president and CEO Caroline Werth introduced the composer after announcing the theatre's 2000-2001 subscription season. Both described the show as being appropriate for broad family audiences, including young adults and children.
Schlitz is not the first country writer to pursue Broadway ambitions, but after being approached by the late Mike Ockrent and others about the possibility, he immersed himself in a study of the genre and has been educating himself about theatre ever since. "Ken, Scott and Paul have guided me through this whole process," Schlitz said in an earlier interview with Playbill On-Line. "Ken has given me a five-year intensive course in the theatre, and they've all been the best teachers."
Schlitz traveled to New Haven from Nashville on June 11 to represent the show before producers and press.
Introducing Schlitz as a major country songwriter for the past quarter century, Caroline Werth said Schlitz had been influential in the careers of such stars as Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, The Judds, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Allison Kraus and others.
Honored as ASCAP's Country Songwriter of the Year for four consecutive years (1989-1991), Schlitz has written fifty Top Ten hits and twenty four Number One songs. These include the Grammy winning song "The Gambler," as well as "On the Other Hand," "Forever and Ever Amen," "Deep than the Holler," "Heroes and Friends," "One Promise Too Late," "Strong Enough to Bend," "My Arms Stay Open All Night," "Forty Hour Week," "Stand a Little Rain," "I Won't Take Less Than Your Love," "When You Say Nothing At All," "Oh, Heart" and "She Deserves You," among others.
As reported earlier, Tom Sawyer has been building a story of its own during development. In the past, producers Elizabeth Williams and Alan Carr were connected with the show. After Carr's death, Schlitz and Ludwig sought other support. There was some serious consideration about the possibility of premiering the musical in Washington, D.C., before bringing it to Broadway, but the Shubert New Haven booking will obviously serve that purpose.
Tickets range from $28-$60. Various subscription rates are available for the theatre's season. The Shubert Performing Arts Center is located at 247 College Street in New Haven, CT. For information call (203) 562-5666 or visit www.shubert.com.
-- By Murdoch McBride