Tune, Elice and Brickman's Turn of the Century Ends in Chicago, Aims for a Future

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02 Nov 2008

Jeff Daniels in <I>Turn of the Century</I>
Jeff Daniels in Turn of the Century
Photo by Liz Lauren
Turn of the Century, the new Tommy Tune-directed musical about late-20th-century performers traveling 100 years back in time and singing songs that would become famous, ends its run at Chicago's Goodman Theatre Nov. 2.

The creators of the musical plan on a wider future for the original musical that borrows American pop songs of the 20th century. The Nov. 2 end date represents an extension of one week from what was earlier announced (Oct. 26). Performances began Sept. 19 toward a Sept. 29 opening.

Co-librettist Rick Elice told the Chicago Tribune that he and co-writer Marshall Brickman and director Tune have been meeting to discuss refinements for future mountings.

"We're hoping to get to New York next summer," Elice told the paper. "And we want to try and take the piece to another [out-of-town] theatre before then."

Commercial Broadway producer Elizabeth McCann is reportedly attached to the project.



Elice and Brickman will be back in Chicago in November 2009 for the world premiere pre-Broadway run of the musical The Addams Family, for which they are writing the libretto.

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Turn of the Century stars Rachel York and Jeff Daniels as performers who go back to the past to introduce the greatest hits of the American popular songbook.

The score is made up of popular songs from throughout the 20th century. A song list has not been made public; the revelation of the numbers is part of the charm of the show.

According to Goodman notes, Turn of the Century "tells the story of a modern cabaret duo Dixie Wilson (York) — an aspiring chanteuse who can't catch a break with a gig or a guy — and Billy (Daniels), her sexy cocktail pianist who knows the songs and loves the ladies. …At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve 1999, the century turns, but in the wrong direction: the duo is catapulted back in time, before the hit songs of the 20th century have been created. Together, Billy and Dixie co-opt the songs that make the whole world sing, becoming the stars they've dreamed of being, at the turn of the century."

It's billed as "a romantic tour through time and the American songbook," directed by nine-time Tony-winning director-choreographer Tune (Nine, Grand Hotel, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Will Rogers Follies). Broadway actor-dancer Noah Racey (Curtains, Never Gonna Dance) is the show's choreographer.

The troupe also includes Ron Orbach, Rachel de Benedet, Kevin Gudahl, Rebecca Finnegan, Jonah Rawitz, Matthew Gold, Nicholas Belton, Jessica Leigh Brown, McKinley Carter, Sara Edwards, Adam Eses, Rebecca Finnegan, Lauren Haughton, Pat McRoberts, Jeff Parker, James Rank, Tommy Rapley, John Sanders, Aléna Watters, Kristen Beth Williams, Michael Parker Ayers and Molly A. Curry.

Tune, Brickman and Elice hand-picked each musical number in the show, most of which are existing music from the American songbook from 1899-1999. A songlist has not been announced. An orchestra of ten is be featured. The songs are performed by Daniels, York and the ensemble.

"We literally had thousands of songs, one hundred years worth of wonderful material, at our fingertips but the choices were difficult because ultimately, the songs must emerge from the psyche of these two principal characters — Billy and Dixie — who are choosing to perform them as their own," stated Tune. "There is an emotional path running through the choice of the songs. And at some point, we make a subtle shift from the songs that they are stealing and releasing as their own, to their own inner music."

"All of the songs in the show are classic songs, but they are presented in a modern experience that introduces — and reintroduces — people to this music," stated Brickman. "In Jersey Boys we introduced people to songs they remember from the '60s. In Turn of the Century, the audience will hear familiar songs in a new way, in a new context and with a new angle."

Daniels is known for the films "Terms of Endearment," "The Squid and the Whale," Lanford Wilson's drama Fifth of July and the New York premiere of Blackbird. York starred in Broadway's City of Angels, Victor/Victoria, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the recent national tour of Camelot.

Set designer Walt Spangler most recently designed Goodman Theatre's King Lear directed by Robert Falls, who introduced him to Tune. Together, Tune and Spangler conceptualized a set design framed by what Tune calls an "electric, visual voice" for Turn of the Century: "a custom-made 36-foot diameter LED (light-emitting diode) screen that forms a circular portal on stage. Commonly seen on brilliant billboards, LEDs are tiny dots sized similar to a hole-punch that emit bright light and has the ability to change to any color."

In Turn of the Century, "the LED screen becomes a character itself, used to communicate time and place."

The creative team includes choreographer Racey, music supervisor Daryl Waters, music director Michael Biagi, set designer Spangler, costume designer Dona Granata, lighting designer Natasha Katz, sound designer Tom Morse, orchestrator Steve Orich, vocal arrangers Daryl Waters and Michael Biagi and lighting designer Natasha Katz.

"We proudly welcome Broadway legend Tommy Tune and his first-rate cast and creative team to the Goodman, and launch our new season with what is bound to be the centerpiece of the fall theatre offerings in Chicago," stated artistic director Robert Falls. "Marshall and Rick have written a fresh, wildly imaginative new musical that will delight, surprise and astonish. We are thrilled to be its first home."

Tune stated, "What excites me most about Turn of the Century is that it is an original musical; it's not based on a person's life, a movie, or a television show — it's an original idea. Rick, Marshall and I have been working on the show for three years. It's been a wonderful process."

"Developing a new work, getting it ready for its world premiere, is always an exciting process, and I am loving the opportunity to create another character and put my own stamp on her," stated York, whose first encounter with Tune was at age 13 when she saw him perform on Broadway in My One and Only. "Dixie is smart, sassy and funny — but also, she's a girl who's just never been lucky in love or her career. She gets the unique chance to make some changes in the way she approaches life by getting sent back in time with Jeff's character, Billy. Jeff is a very giving actor — and that enables me to discover even more. And what great songs I get to sing! Some of the best of the 20th century. You can't beat it."

Brickman himself is a renowned musician who performed with the Tarriers, a folk group whose alumni included Alan Arkin, Eric Darling (later of the Weavers), and Eric Weissberg. Brickman and Weissberg's "New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass" album was re-released as the soundtrack for the film "Deliverance" and contained the surprise hit single "Dueling Banjos." Brickman next teamed up with John and Michelle Phillips to form The New Journeymen, the transitional entity from which The Mamas and the Papas emerged (after Brickman left to pursue a career in writing — with Woody Allen, co-authoring "Sleeper" and "Annie Hall.)

Tickets to Turn of the Century are $25 to $82 and may be purchased online at GoodmanTheatre.org, at the Goodman Theatre box office, 170 North Dearborn Street, or charged by phoning (312) 443-3800.