More than 25 years after it had a Broadway-bound Jack O'Brien-directed production in Chicago, Nefertiti the Musical is back in Illinois this spring, in a rewritten version and a whole new staging.
The run that began April 16 at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center in metropolitan Chicago — Cicero, to be exact — has been extended for two more performances, 7:30 PM May 7 and 8.
Authors Rick Gore and David Spangler have fashioned an entirely original script based on new information regarding the royal family of the 18th Dynasty in ancient Egypt, according to production notes for the show.
The Jedlicka has a reputation for large-scale non-Equity works, and the pop-rock Nefertiti is no exception. Performances were announced to play Friday and Saturday evenings, April 16-May 1 at 7:30 PM, plus 3 PM Sunday April 18; and now there are two more chances.
Nefertiti is directed by Jedlicka artistic director Dante J. Orfei and produced by Jedlicka's resident producer, Joseph Messina, with choreography by Robin Robbins. Musical direction is by Ryan McCall.
The company includes Laura Kirin as Nefertiti, Daniel Boothe as Akhenaten, James Earl Jones II (the famed actor's cousin) as General Hap, Daniel Frank as Tut, Ron Goldstein as Shabak, Jason Aron Groh as Smenkare, Wayde Matthews as Aye, Mary K. Nigohosian as Tiye, Cheyenne Pinson as Nesu, Kylah Williams as Penmut Jose Aguayo, Jan Augustine, DeAmore Avalos, Mel Baronas, Sarah Rose Batchu, Max Cervantes, Rebecca Deihl, Bridget Dominiak, Shannon Dominiak, Jeff Eicholz, Jose Fernandez, Jonathan Gean, Martin Gonzalez, Rachel Hayes, Michelle Host, Jessica Iovinelli, Alfonsita Jimenez, Shelley Johnsen, Stephanie Labayen, Megan Mattucci, Michelle Moore, Janel O'Brien, Alyssa O'Donnell, Diana Richards and Alexandra Schultz.
Producer Messina told Playbill On-Line this is the first time the new material will be tested in front of audiences. The hope, he said, is that Nefertiti will have a professional sitdown run in Chicago, and a greater life regionally.
The return of Nefertiti was Dante Orfei's idea. He had seen the cult-hit in Chicago and it stuck with him. When thinking of programming for the Jedlicka, Nefertiti came to mind and producer Messina made some phone calls and learned the material had been revisited by composer David Spangler.
The production "will incorporate new songs, new orchestrations and introduces the character of King Tut as a teenage boy striving to make sense of the dramatic and passionate world he inherited from his father Pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother Queen Nefertiti."
Melania Lancy is scenic designer. Orchestrations are by Kalle and Nils-Petter Ankarblom, Swedish brothers who are giving the score a distinctive "world music" sound.
The show started modestly as a Christopher Gore-David Spangler show called Brothers (about the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten), seen at La Mama Off Broadway in 1976.
By 1977, Gore (lyricist-librettist of Broadway's Via Galactica in 1972 and later Academy Award nominated for the screenplay to "Fame") and composer Spangler (known for his dance arrangements for Seesaw and The Magic Show) saw their pop tale about the Queen of ancient Egypt in the Broadway-bound Chicago production starring Andrea Marcovicci, Robert LuPone and Michael Nouri. The early staging was directed by Jack O'Brien, later lauded for The Invention of Love and Hairspray.
"Creative differences" killed Nefertiti's first life in Chicago after 40 performances at the Blackstone Theater. Gore would later be preoccupied by the film and TV series, "Fame," and died prematurely in 1988.
"So much more has been discovered about the life of Nefertiti and the time in which she lived since the initial production that Spangler enlisted Christopher Gore’s brother, Rick, to help with the revisions," according to production notes. "Rick Gore is the science editor for National Geographic and had written numerous articles on the subject of ancient Egypt. His most recent Geographic article was a report, titled Pharaohs of the Sun, on the latest archaeological theories about Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and King Tut."
Over the past decade the writers have "completely overhauled the script, added new songs and completely new orchestrations."
The credits read this way for the revised Nefertiti: Christopher Gore (concept and co-lyricist), David Spangler (music, co-author and co-lyricist), Rick Gore (co-lyricist and co-author).
Director Dante Orfei has been the artistic director at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center for over 25 years. There, he directed the U.S. premiere of the musical Metropolis and worked closely with the show's creator, Joseph Brooks, on the development of the show. He also directed the Chicago premieres of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love, Blood Brothers, Jekyll and Hyde, The Baker's Wife and numerous plays by farceur Ray Cooney, including the U.S. premiere of Cooney's It Runs in the Family.
Producer Joseph Messina has been producing shows at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center for over 10 years. He was also the co-author of the original musical parody, Danger, Will Robinson and artistic director of the Cenacle Theatre Company.
Jedlicka Performing Arts Center is on the campus of Morton College, 3801 South Central Avenue, Cicero, Illinois, 10 minutes outside of Chicago.
Tickets are $12. For information, call (708) 656-3948 or visit www.nefertitithemusical.com.