By David Lefkowitz
12 Jan 2000
Add Roger Bart to the list of notable New York actors taking part in two industry readings of Joe DiPietro's new musical, They All Laughed, Jan. 18 and 20. Bart, who won a Tony for playing Snoopy in last season's You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown revival, will co-star as Jimmy Winter, opposite Laura Benanti's Billie Bendix.
DiPietro, author of Over the River and Through the Woods and co author of the revue, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, has been working for the past year and a half on this revision of the George and Ira Gershwin musical, Oh, Kay!. Commissioned by the Gershwin Estate, the redo, titled They All Laughed, recently had a private reading that "went as well as I could have imagined," DiPietro told Playbill On Line. Producing the readings are Jonathan Pollard, Dena Hammerstein and Bernie Kukoff -- the same team who produced Perfect/Change and Over the River.
Joining Bart and The Sound of Music's Benanti in the Laughed readings are Mary Beth Piel, Donna English (Ruthless!), Dick Latessa, Tovah Feldshuh (Sarava!), Kevin Chamberlin (As Thousands Cheer), Roxane Barlow, Michael X. Martin and Michael Mastro (Side Man). Patrick Brady and Ethyl Will will assist on piano for the ensemble piece.
"The Gershwin Estate gave me the script to read," DiPietro said of the process, "and the book was creaky but the concept was fun. It's about a playboy on Long Island who falls for a bootlegger just as he's set to marry this snooty woman. I made a lot of changes, but the germ of it was very much in the original [by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse]; I probably stuck to it even more than I thought I would."
Oh, Kay! first reached Broadway in 1926, with a return engagement two years later. Broadway last saw Oh, Kay! in 1990 and 1991, produced by David Merrick. James Racheff did that adaptation, based on a concept by Dan Siretta. The show, starring Brian Mitchell (sans the middle name "Stokes" at that time) and Angela Teek, closed after 77 performances. Merrick tried to bring tuner back a year later as a star vehicle for Rae Dawn Chong, but the redo closed in previews.
A busy fellow indeed, DiPietro is also just finishing the first draft of a rewrite of Allegro for the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization. "Definitely a challenging show to redo," said DiPietro.
Come February, DiPietro will also start work on a new musical using songs made popular by Elvis Presley. As reported by Variety, the piece won't be an Elvis biography or impersonation, so much as a concept musical using the songs to tell mini stories.
Maxyne Berman Lang, who administers the catalogue of recorded Presley songs for a subdivision of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, thought up the idea. Lang told Playbill On-Line she was thrilled about the project, because "it's a new way to have audiences embrace the songs." Lang told Variety, "Having lived with those songs for so many years, it seemed to me they had a story, a non-Elvis Presley story to tell." According to Variety, Elvis Presley Music has approved of the project.
Librettist DiPietro told Variety he saw the as-yet-untitled Elvis show following the format of the London smash, Mama Mia!, which uses ABBA songs "but doesn't mention ABBA at all. I want the songs [in the Elvis musical] to come from many different voices and situations that you don't expect."
Because the musical, tentatively targeted for Broadway in 2001, is in a "formative stage," Lang declined to mention which songs would be included. Tunes made popular by "The King" include "Love Me Tender, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock" and "Suspicious Minds."
DiPietro told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 22) the musical was still in the "man alone in a room with a piece of paper stage." He did say the show would be in "the musical-comedy tradition" and that he'll start to work on it, in earnest, beginning February 2000.
Theatregoers outside New York need not go DiPietro-less; Paul Provenza is starring in the West Coast premiere of The Kiss at City Hall, a romantic comedy running at the Pasadena Playhouse Jan. 7-Feb. 20.