Songwriters Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt will see the Manhattan premiere of their long-aborning musical, Roadside, Nov. 13-Dec. 23, in a staging by York Theatre Company.
No director or casting has been announced, but a York spokesman said the show, based on a play by Lynn Riggs, will be a full staging that's part of the York's main 2001-2002 season. The musical had its professional world premiere by Lyric Stage Feb. 17-March 3, in Irving, TX.
Jones and Schmidt, of course, are best known for their long running, record-breaking musical The Fantasticks, which opened in Manhattan in 1960 and continues today at the Sullivan Street Playhouse. The Fantasticks recently began announcing "last weeks." Playwright Riggs is known for his Green Grown the Lilacs, the play on which Oklahoma! is based.
In contrast to Green Grow the Lilacs, about young people and the territory's imminent inclusion in the U.S., Roadside is about early-20th-century folks who didn't care to be absorbed into statehood. The characters were able to make the adjustment from the old west to new statehood, and "chose instead, in spite of all the odds, to hold on to the their old dreams of freedom and rugged individualism," according to Roadside production notes from the Texas staging.
In the 1950s, as a project for his master's thesis in directing at the University of Texas, Tom Jones directed a production of the play, Roadside. After arriving in New York, Jones and Schmidt played with the idea of Roadside as a musical; they wrote a few songs, made a demo recording, but never got the rights to the material. The show was shelved and in the years that followed the writers penned such musicals as I Do! I Do! and 110 in the Shade. Dan Shaheen, while organizing manuscripts, music and tapes for Schmidt and Jones, ran across the old Roadside demo and persuaded the writers to secure the rights and finish the show. (The record producer Bruce Kimmel recorded a couple Roadside songs on anthology discs on the Varese Sarabande label.) Schmidt and Jones returned to Roadside, with Jones penning a new book and lyrics for 14 new songs by composer Schmidt, joining four of the songs from the original demo.
"The characters [of the two Riggs shows] are similar and yet the whole thing is different," Jones told Playbill On-Line in 2000. "Green Grow is about making the adjustment to the coming statehood. Roadside is about ne'r-do-well dreamers, people who light their fires by chopping down 'Keep Out' signs."
Hannie, who travels with her father in a wagon, meets a bigger than-life dreamer named Texas, who can convince you of anything, though he's apparently just "another drunken cowboy with a dream," according to one song, Jones said.
"I grew up on tent shows in the '30s in Texas, we're setting the whole thing up like it's a tent show," Jones said in 2000. "We're not in competition with Oklahoma! That's a competition I don't want to engage in, if you don't mind."
Lyric Stage founding producer Steven Jones has always been a big fan of Schmidt and Jones. He first met the legendary team in 1993 in preparation for 110 in the Shade, Lyric Stage's second production. Lyric Stage has since produced Schmidt and Jones' I Do! I Do! and Mirette. During pre-production work on Mirette in the summer of 1999, Steven Jones learned of Roadside from Drew Scott Harris, Mirette's director.
Schmidt and Jones reached an agreement with the Riggs Estate and a New York reading was held in February 2000.
The Lyric Stage cast included Texas-born Julie Johnson (Theatre World Award winner and Drama Desk nominee for Das Barbecu) as the spirited Hannie. Jonathan Beck Reed was Texas, Hannie's leading man. Drew Scott Harris returned to Lyric Stage as Roadside director with Nyela Basney as musical director.
— By Kenneth Jones