That Greenwillow is getting a new, possibly Broadway-bound life in Florida and Utah, isn't the only Frank Loesser story in the news. One of the writer/composer's final projects, Betting On Bertie, a musical drawn from the same P.G. Wodehouse stories as Andrew Lloyd Webber's later By Jeeves, is eyeing New York for a major production.
Walter Willison, currently revising and directing Greenwillow at Florida's Golden Apple Theatre, is also revising and directing Betting On Bertie, on its way to a small Broadway or large Off-Broadway house, likely for fall 1997.
A fall workshop at Boston's Hasty Pudding was to follow but got called off when Keene Curtis fell ill. A recovered Curtis appeared in a reading of the show, Oct. 15 (P.G. Wodehouse's birthday), alongside Douglas Holmes, Judy Kaye, Diane J. Findlay, Jack Edelman, Emily Skinner and Sam Reni.
The show received another reading at Off-Broadway's Promenade Theatre, April 14. Starring there were Simon Jones as Jeeves (Private Lives, Privates On Parade), co-writer Douglas Holmes (Wooster), Sally Mayes, Timothy Jerome, Diane J. Findlay, Anne Van Cleve, Ben George, Steve Asciolla and Sam Reni.
In 1968, Frank Loesser got together with P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton about the idea of a Jeeves musical. (Wodehouse, of course, created the comic characters of Bertie Wooster and his unflappable butler, Jeeves, in a series of comic novels.) Loesser, a mentor for other librettists and composers, convinced Wodehouse and Bolton to team up with Robert Wright and George "Chet" Forest (Kismet, Grand Hotel), who wrote the music. (Wodehouse wrote the lyrics -- his last, with a book by Bolton and Wodehouse.) According to director Willison, "Frank passed away, but Bolton still wanted to get the show on. In fact, when Andrew Lloyd Webber first wrote By Jeeves he had to get Wodehouse's permission to do so. Wright & Forrest ended up putting their show on the shelf for five years, for a number of reasons." Willison also said that when Webber discovered they'd cut their "Jeeves" down from 30 characters to eight, he did the same.
Willison is directing the show, which he says is now "circling the airport waiting for a theatre. We need a small Broadway house or large Off Broadway house for this intimate musical, and that won't happen until fall 1997." Jack Lee is serving as musical director, Michael Frazier as producer.
--By David Lefkowitz