Tommy Tune and Mark Saltzman "Hustle" Out a Disco Musical About Studio 54 Founder Steve Rubell

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03 Nov 2011

Tommy Tune
Tommy Tune
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Fifty*Four*Forever, a new musical about the rise and fall of the man who co-founded the iconic 1970s nightclub Studio 54, is being created by dramatist Mark Saltzman and multiple Tony Award-winning director-choreographer Tommy Tune in the relative quiet of the Department of Theatre Arts of the University of Miami, where the creators have been in rehearsal with students in recent weeks.

Populated by eager and talented undergraduates, and using songs from the period (think "The Hustle"), the musical biography of the dance mecca's late co-owner Steve Rubell will have its world premiere Nov. 9-19 at the university's Jerry Herman Ring Theatre in Coral Gables, FL.

The experience is part of the university's mission to put students "in close collaboration with professional guest artists" to prepare them to work in professional theatre, film or TV or graduate school. Working with nine-time Tony Award winner (Nine, Grand Hotel, A Day in Hollywood…, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Will Rogers Follies) on a new musical from the ground up isn't a bad start.

Fifty*Four*Forever is conceived and directed by Tune, who also choreographs, and is written by Saltzman, the screenwriter of the TV musical "Mrs. Santa Claus" and playwright of The Tin Pan Alley Rag and Clutter. The associate director and choreographer is David Warren Gibson. Costumes are by Dona Granata. Lighting is by Eric Haugen.

Saltzman told that the collaborators view this in-the-round production as a "New Haven"-style tryout for the show. Producers and other industry people are coming to the Miami area to take a look at it. "I thought it was going to be quiet," Saltzman said with a laugh, "but it's disco, so it seems to get pretty noisy."

In its heyday, 1977-80, Studio 54 on West 54th Street, was a playground for the stars of the stage, screen, fashion, art and music industries, to say nothing of the athletes, politicians and writers who commingled on the crowded dance floor and in the shadowy alcoves. Booze and cigarettes and drugs were as common as air.

The venue, which opened in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House, is currently one of three legit Broadway theatres operated and programmed by the not-for-profit Roundabout Theatre Company.

Saltzman said that he and Tune were put together to discuss another project that they ultimately didn't collaborate on, but Tune pitched a fresh idea — the short but incandescent story of Studio 54 and founding partner Rubell, "a musical biography using songs of the era."

Saltzman explained, "I played around with it a little, thinking, 'What do you do with this? — it doesn't really have a happy ending.' But the more I kind of dug into the era and the actual facts of what happened at Studio 54, and how that downfall occurred, it seemed more like Greek tragedy, you know? The fall from the great heights."


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