By Kenneth Jones
09 Oct 2004
The Philadelphia company devoted to musicals developed the new show with original playwright Albert Innaurato (who penned book and lyrics for it), pairing him with Philadelphia composer Charles Gilbert, who co-wrote the lyrics.
Picardo ("Star Trek: Voyager," "The Wonder Years") reunites with Anne DeSalvo, his Broadway castmate of 1977. She plays Fran's girlfriend, Lucille, the same role she played more than 20 years ago. In that run, Danny Aiello played Fran, the stern Italian-American father of Francis, a chubby, opera-loving, closeted student. Picardo made his Broadway debut in the play, which ran 1977-81 following its Off-Broadway premiere by Circle Rep. DeSalvo won an Obie for her work.
Hairspray's original "Miss Baltimore Crabs," Linda Hart, who played the Geminianis' next-door neighbor Bunny Weinberger in the 1999 Off-Broadway revival of Gemini, will recreate the role in the musical. She calls her work in the Second Stage Theatre run a highlight of her career.
Innaurato's play won an Obie Award in 1977. It's "an achingly funny, achingly moving coming-of-age tale about a Harvard student and his South Philly family, filled with larger-than-life characters," according to the Prince.
Douglas Wager, Prince Music Theater director-in residence, stages the production, with musical direction by Eric Ebbenge.
The company includes newcomer Barry H. James (national tour, Saturday Night Fever) as Francis, "the 21-year-old South Philly misfit home from his first year at Harvard"; Jillian Louis (a graduate of the Prince Music Theater’s Rainbow Company) as Judith, his college pal; and Jeremiah B. Downes (a recent graduate of the University of the Arts) as Randy, Judith's handsome brother; Todd Buonopane (Off-Broadway's The Butter and Egg Man) will play Herschel, Bunny’s son.
Opening night is 8 PM Oct. 16.
The new musical is not the same take on the 1977 source material that Innaurato previously explored with composer-lyricist Kevin Carter, whose version was heard in Manhattan readings in 2002 and 2003 under the direction of Robert Cronin of Ergo Theatre Company.
Prince artistic director Marjorie Samoff previously told Playbill On-Line that Innaurato "wasn't wholly convinced" that the earlier musical version "was the right way to go" with the material, and provided an introduction between the playwright and a new composer, Gilbert, who heads the musical theatre program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
"It is much closer to the play than the other version was: It's building out from the play, so it's definitely a book musical but it has a huge amount of music," Samoff said of the developing Prince Gemini, which was originally to bow in June, but was bumped to allow more brewing time and to open the fall season.
The musical has come together in the past year, more hastily than most works. Samoff said she likes to get work up in front of an audience rather than work it to death in workshops.
"For me, the chance to work with Albert on it, and to really give Albert the freedom to do it the way he wanted seemed like the right thing," Samoff said. "I've been a fan of Albert's for a long time. I've tried to work with him over the years as he's one of Philadelphia's most gifted playwrights — and he's someone who's very musical. He writes about opera all the time."
Although the show is not enjoying a multi-year gestation period before its first full production, it doesn't mean Gemini is new to the composer. According to Samoff, "It happens that the composer has been interested in doing a musical based on Gemini for years, and had been working on it. We provided the introduction, but Charlie has been interested in the material for a long time."
The Philadelphia-set show "is a natural" for the Prince and the composer, who lives in South Philly, where the play is set. "This seems like a great opportunity for a born-in Philadelphia musical," Samoff said.
The show will remain set in the 1970s. Samoff admits that the coming-out-of-the-closet, coming-of-age story is "not nearly as radical" today "but there's a profound father-son story and a journey that is universal."
According to his website, www.chasgilbert.com, "composer, lyricist and dramatist Charles Gilbert is a writer, director, composer and educator who specializes in the musical theatre. Currently associate professor and head of the musical theatre program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Gilbert has worked with National Music Theater Network, Prince Music Theater (formerly the American Music Theater Festival), Gretna Theater, Delaware Theater Company, Opera Delaware, Covered Bridge Theater and other professional theatres as director or musical director for a variety of musical productions.
"Among his credits as a writer and composer is the 1979 musical Assassins, source of the idea for the Stephen Sondheim musical which premiered in New York in 1991.
His musical B.G.D.F. was seen in New York in 1983 in a showcase starring Gregg Edelman. His children's musical, A Is for Anything, commissioned by the Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education, has been performed nearly a hundred times for thousands of children in Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, and was selected as a finalist in the Buxton Quest for New Musicals in 1992. His cabaret revue, Watch The Birdie, was performed at Don't Tell Mama in New York and The Actors Center in Philadelphia in 1993, and a revised version was presented at the Philadelphia Arts Banks and the Douglas Fairbanks Theater in 1998."
Gilbert holds an MFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon University and is a former member of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop.
Gemini, the play, opened May 21, 1977 at The Little Theatre and closed Sept. 6, 1981, playing 1,819 performances. It was set in 1973, in the Geminiani/Weinberger backyard in south Philadelphia. The production was produced by The Circle Repertory Company and PAF Playhouse. Peter Mark Schifter directed, and the Broadway production was "supervised by" Marshall W. Mason.
Performances play 8 PM Oct. 9; 3 PM Oct. 10; 7 PM Oct. 12-13. Performances Oct. 14-31 are 7 PM Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 PM Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 3 PM Sundays. There is a 2 PM matinee Oct. 23.
For more information, call Prince Music Theater's box office at (215) 569-9700, or visit the Prince box office at 1412 Chestnut Street at Broad on The Avenue of the Arts. Visit www.princemusictheater.org.