Zambello Bows Out as Director of The First Wives Club Musical

By Adam Hetrick
and Kenneth Jones
11 Nov 2009

Francesca Zambello
Francesca Zambello

Director Francesca Zambello has departed the Broadway-aimed musical The First Wives Club due to prior scheduling commitments, producers of the project have announced.

Opera and theatre director Zambello (The Little Mermaid, Little House on the Prairie) helmed the world premiere of the musical at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre this past summer and was slated to stage the planned Broadway production, though dates and a theatre had not been announced. The musical was not embraced by critics.

While Zambello is the only member of the creative team confirmed to depart, the latest announcement also reveals that a "new artistic team" will join the production.

In a statement, First Wives Club producers Paul Lambert and Jonas Nielson said, "We wish Francesca the absolute very best in all of her future projects, but we are moving forward on the development of our new musical. Francesca has always been a member of the FWC family, and she will remain a trusted friend and supporter. Our engagement this summer at the Old Globe was a huge success, we have also learned a great deal from our audiences, investors and friends. With the departure of Francesca, we are now in the process of speaking to a select group of talented individuals interested in joining the creative team, and when the time is right, we will be making an announcement about future plans. Big musicals take time, and we have every intention of giving this one all the support and energy it needs. Like the three woman at the center of The First Wives Club, we are moving on, getting on with our lives and not stopping until we get what we want. And that means Broadway!"

"I am extremely proud of the work that was accomplished on The First Wives Club," Zambello said. "And while other longstanding directing commitments prevent me from continuing on with the show at this time, I certainly want to wish the entire First Wives team success as it moves forward."

According to Zambello's official website, her 2010 projects include the ongoing national tour of Little House on the Prairie; as well as Porgy and Bess for the Washington National Opera in March of 2010; Madama Butterfly for the Dallas Opera in May of 2010; and Die Walküre for the San Francisco Opera in June of 2010.

Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains, Say Goodnight Gracie) penned the libretto for The First Wives Club that features a score by Motown hit-makers Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, the threesome who created hits for Martha and The Vandellas, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and The Supremes.

The Old Globe cast featured Tony nominee Sheryl Lee Ralph (Dreamgirls, Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Elyse, Tony nominee Barbara Walsh (Company, Hairspray) as Brenda, Tony winner Karen Ziemba (Contact, Curtains!) as Annie, Tony nominee John Dossett (Gypsy) as Aaron, Kevyn Morrow (Dreamgirls) as Bill, Tony nominee Brad Oscar (The Producers) as Morty, Sara Chase as Trophy Wife, Tony nominee Sam Harris (The Life) as Duane, Ari Lerner and Austyn Myers alternating as Jason, with Michelle Aravena, Mark Campbell, Thursday Farrar, Jenifer Foote, Bob Gaynor, Matthew LaBanca, Victoria Matlock, Hayley Podschun, Martin Samuel and Richard Waits as the Ensemble.

The world premiere creative team included scenic designer Peter J. Davison (Medea), costume designer Paul Tazewell, lighting designer Mark McCullough sound designer Jon Weston, choreographer Lisa Stevens, music supervisor Ron Melrose, conductor John Gentry Tennyson and orchestrator Harold Wheeler.

The popular 1996 Paramount film "The First Wives Club" was based on Olivia Goldsmith's novel and featured a screenplay by Robert Harling. The motion picture grossed over $130 million and starred Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton.