By Kenneth Jones
17 Oct 2008
Playbill.com has learned that a late October New York City industry reading is expected to explore the rewrite of the backstage musical comedy about oil-and-water stars of a troubled Broadway-bound musical. Xanadu star Jackson plays the freshened lead role of a Hollywood bad boy named Tony Hunter leaping into the legit realm.
Gary Griffin (The Color Purple, The Apple Tree) remains attached as director. The property is no longer called Dancing in the Dark, as it was at the Old Globe in San Diego March 4-April 20, 2008. The new title is the old title — The Band Wagon, which will please fans of the 1953 movie musical that starred Fred Astaire as a song-and-dance man Tony Hunter paired with Cyd Charisse as a ballet star Gaby Gerard. They're teamed in a pretentious musical version of Faust that is sinking on the road until an injection of show tunes saves the day.
Both the classic film and this stage version (which is being shepherded by producers Barry and Fran Weissler, of Chicago fame) are packed with songs by golden age Broadway writers Howard Dietz (lyrics) and Arthur Schwartz (music). They wrote "That's Entertainment" for the '53 movie; the rest of the score was pulled from their catalog of classics (think "Dancing in the Dark," "New Sun in the Sky," "Triplets," "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," "By Myself" and more).
The Astaire-created role of Tony Hunter was already reconditioned for the San Diego run, when Scott Bakula played the character with the quality of an Everyman crooner — more Bing Crosby than Astaire.
Beane and Jackson have worked together twice before: on Xanadu and the comic stage soap opera The Cartells.
Jackson's Broadway credits include Aida, Thoroughly Modern Millie, All Shook Up and Xanadu. He was a 2008 Drama Desk Award nominee as Outstanding Actor in a Musical for Xanadu, and a 2005 Theatre World Award winner for All Shook Up. He also was featured in the original cast of Altar Boyz and was seen this past summer in the City Center Encores! Summer Stars production of Damn Yankees.
Beane was Tony-nominated for his scripts to the musical Xanadu (the national tour will launch this fall) and the comedy The Little Dog Laughed (now a hot regional property). His comedy As Bees in Honey Drown was an Off-Broadway hit.
Most of the earlier Dancing in the Dark cast will remain, minus Bakula, of course. The Oct. 31 private reading of The Band Wagon will feature Tony winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) as Lily Marton, Adam Heller (Make Me a Song) as Lester Marton, Mara Davi (A Chorus Line) as Gabrielle Gerard, Patrick Page (A Man for All Seasons, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) as Jeffrey Cordova and Benjamin Howes as Hal Meadows.
The roles of dancers Teddy and Phillippe will be reprised by Jacob ben Widmar and Nicolas Dromard.
The role of the choreographer Paul Byrd (created by Sebastian LaCause) has also been rethought and will be portrayed by Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy).
Choreographer Warren Carlyle (A Tale of Two Cities) remains attached, as do the San Diego production's designers.
There are so many levels of showbiz context surrounding The Band Wagon that you need a folding chart. The Band Wagon was a 1931 Broadway revue by Dietz, Schwartz and George S. Kaufman that starred Fred and Adele Astaire and featured the song "Dancing in the Dark." The film "The Band Wagon" starred a fiftysomething Fred Astaire as a former Broadway star and washed-up movie-musical actor — patterned after Astaire himself — who returns to Broadway in a show called The Band Wagon. The movie's songs were drawn from Dietz & Schwartz's '20s and '30s revue catalog, and included songs from The Band Wagon, Three's a Crowd, The Little Show, Flying Colors, Revenge With Music, Between the Devil and more. The 1953 screenplay is by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; the roles of Lily and Lester Marton, old pals of Tony's, are patterned on Comden and Green.
In San Diego, musical director was Don York and the orchestrator was Larry Hochman. The design team included scenic designer John Lee Beatty, costume designer David Woolard, lighting designer Ken Billington and sound designer Brian Ronan.