PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 18-24: Jay-Z and Annie, the Bare Kids, the Lunts in NYC

By Robert Simonson
August 24, 2012

Let's begin this week's column with one of the strangest theatre stories I've encountered in 25 years of covering the scene. Here's how the lead to the Playbill.com news story went: "'Annie,' the upcoming film remake of the 1982 movie musical that will star Willow Smith in the title role, will begin production in spring 2013 in New York, according to BBC News. Rap artist Jay-Z is currently working on additions to the score."



Repeat: "Rap artist Jay-Z is currently working on additions to the score."

What question to ask first. How does that work? How did this happen? Is this OK with Annie's composers Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, who are both very much alive? If so, why is it OK? Is Little Orphan Annie going to rap in the movie? Will FDR? Does Jay-Z secretly love musicals? Will "NYC" be replaced by "Empire State of Mind"?

The film is going to be produced by actor Will Smith (Willow is his daughter), and is adapted from John Huston's screenplay by actress Emma Thompson, who has been working on it for three years. The film will include some of the classic tunes from Annie, beloved for decades by musical fans. But others will be cut in favor of additions by Jay-Z. Strangely enough, the rapper has a history with the score. He previously reworked "It's the Hard Knock Life" into his "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," a single from his third album, "Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life." Jay-Z is also co-producing the film with Smith.

This news comes as New York is getting ready for the latest Broadway revival of Annie. Under the direction of James Lapine, it will begin previews at the Palace Theatre Oct. 3, prior to an official opening Nov. 8. Lilla Crawford stars.

There will be no Jay-Z songs in the Broadway production.

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Casting is complete for the Damon Intrabartolo-Jon Hartmere Off-Broadway rock musical Bare, a coming-of-age rock musical set in a Catholic boarding school. Taylor Trensch and Jason Hite will star as undercover lovers Peter and Jason, respectively.

Bare will also star Elizabeth Judd, Gerard Canonico, Jerold E. Solomon , Barrett Wilbert Weed and Missi Pyle. Stafford Arima directs.

As previously announced, Bare will begin previews Off-Broadway at New World Stages Nov. 19, prior to an official opening Dec. 9. Bare had its world premiere at the Hudson Theater in Los Angeles, CA, where it began performances Oct. 14, 2000, and ran through Feb. 25, 2001. Bare has since had more than 100 productions worldwide.

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Karen Allen, Indiana Jones' favorite squeeze, will star in the American premiere of Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse's A Summer Day, translated and directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde. The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production begins previews Off-Broadway on Oct. 10.

The play tells how a visit to an old friend sparks the memory of a visit years earlier and the mysterious disappearance of a loved one. It is set in two time periods in the same idyllic house. Fosse is considered a leading playwright in Norway, but is little-known in the U.S. 

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In more Off-Broadway news, the producers of the recent musical Soul Doctor, about the life and singing career of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, said they are in talks to move the show either to Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theater or to Off Broadway’s New World Stages.

The most interesting aspect of this theatre story is its lead producer, Jeremy Chess. He is a New York retina surgeon who has never produced a show before. Chess conceived Soul Doctor about six years ago after noticing the popularity of Carlebach’s songs at weddings and other celebrations. The show, which was written and directed by Daniel S. Wise, recently had three-week run at New York Theater Workshop (a rental there). Reviews were mixed, but crowds were good. Chess said that further work would probably be done on the show, and that he has a group of 10 investors so far and was looking for more.

Given the good doctor's profession, one assumes he's eyeballing the situation clearly.

How do you turn down the opportunity to play Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne?

The answer is: you don't. And so The Peccadillo Theatre Company has landed a couple big acting fish for it's New York City premiere of 's new comedy Ten Chimneys, set at the theatrical couple's legendary Wisconsin home. It will begin performances Sept. 21 at Theatre at St. Clement's.

The cast will be led by two stage veterans. Byron Jennings is Alfred Lunt and Carolyn McCormick is Lynn Fontanne. Also in the cast are Mariette Hartley as Lunt's imperious mother Hattie and Michael McCarty as Sydney Greenstreet, who was a member of Lunt and Fontanne's acting ensemble before becoming a film heavy. A young Uta Hagen is also a character.

Ten Chimneys is set in 1938, during the rehearsal process for an upcoming production of Chekhov's The Seagull.

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Actors seem determined to put playwrights out of business.

The latest performer to pen a script is Chazz Palminteri, who made his Broadway debut in his one-man show A Bronx Tale. He has now written a new play entitled Human, a morality tale set on Wall Street which is aiming for a Broadway bow in fall 2013. Palminteri will also star in the production, which will be directed by Jerry Zaks.

Meanwhile, Bullet for Adolf, a new comedy by "Cheers" actor Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman that officially opened in its American premiere Aug. 8 at Off-Broadway's New World Stages, has extended its run through October. Performances were originally scheduled to continue through Sept. 9. The production will now end its run Oct. 21.

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Up at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA, meanwhile, a drama critic has taken away a production sport from playwrights.

Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man play about jazz musician Louis Armstrong, written by longtime Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout, will play Aug. 22-Sept. 16, prior to a run in New Haven, CT. John Douglas Thompson plays dual roles—the famed trumpeter and Joe Glaser, Armstrong's mob-connected manager. The play is set in 1971, before Armstrong's final performance. It is Teachout's first play. Gordon Edelstein directs, and will do the same at Long Wharf Theatre, where he is artistic director, later in the fall.

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Finally, Colony Music, the Times Square-area institution where show-tune lovers, theatre performers and a range of singers and musicians sought sheet music, piano-vocal scores, Broadway cast albums and pop records for 64 years, will close its doors around Oct. 1. Business partner Richard Turk said the closure of the store, located in the famous Brill Building at 49th Street and Broadway, is due to "increased expenses, decreased sales." Turk cited the explosion of online purveyors of sheet music and recordings.

Colony is a one of the last vestiges of a bygone Times Square, one that was not only a theatre center, but a music mecca, with song pluggers toiling in the Brill Building to write hit songs for the singing stars of the day, who might debut the new tunes in one of the many cabarets and jazz clubs that littered midtown Manhattan. Today, nobody write songs in the Brill Building, and there are no clubs where such songs would be heard. People now download their music. They don't visit a physical store to buy albums and singles.

Still, for a Broadway composer, seeing your sheet music in the window of Colony was still one indication that you had made it. Turk said that he thinks he will be work on a book about the Colony's place in the American music scene. He told an anecdote about James Brown, who walked in one day perhaps 30 years ago. Brown sniffed the air and said, "Yeah, baby, this smells like a music store."