UK's Moby Dick! Musical Gets NYC Reading In Anticipation of US Licensing

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23 Jan 2003

A revised version of the West End musical comedy, Moby Dick!, the Cameron Mackintosh-produced show about boarding school girls putting on a musical of the famed sea adventure, will get private industry readings in New York City Jan. 23-24, with Mackintosh in attendance.

Mackintosh produced the quirky show, in which the headmistress is played by an actor in drag, in London in 1993. The work has not yet had an American life, due partly to the fact that the script is apparently so British in its sensibility.

The show by Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye is inspired, in tone, by the 1954 British movie, "The Belles of St. Trinians," about the hijinks at a boarding school that is going broke. Alastair Sim played the headmistress in the picture.

In the musical, Moby Dick! is staged as a fundraiser for the school, and the headmistress, again, is played by a man. In the new reading, Broadway's Bryan Batt (Cats, Saturday Night Fever) plays the role, as well as Ahab.

Russell Ochocki directs the readings and is in charge of developing this property for Music Theatre International, the licensing agent that also handles Mackintosh produced Miss Saigon, Tomfoolery, The Fix and the school edition of Les Misérables.



Various drafts of the script and score were consulted for this latest version, which is set at a school called St. Godley's Academy for Young Ladies. The show isn't exactly Americanized, writer Hereward Kaye told Playbill On-Line, but it is made a little more friendly for North American audiences.

Ochocki told Playbill On-Line MTI hopes to have the show in its licensing catalog by summer, available to stock, amateur, school and professional theatre producers.

For the readings, Brian Hamilton is musical director and Danny Musha is associate musical director. Martin Koch is the show's musical arranger. A London cast album of the musical preserved the score, which ranges from '50s pop to traditional musical theatre to Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche. The disc doesn't really represent the show now, Kaye said.

The cast for the reading includes Megan Kelly, Daniel Frank Kelly, Robert Olsen, Kevin Duda, Lisa Howard, Tory Ross, Leslie Goddard, Daniel Cochran, Andrew Rasmussen, Barbara Helms, Jason Bratton, Brendt Reil, Karen DiConcetto and Sharon Frances.

The cast can be as small as 10 but could also be tripled to include more, MTI's Ochocki said.

Moby Dick! was first seen in a fringey staging in London in 1983 and was more of a late-night revue, at an outdoor jazz festival, Kaye said. A later version was mounted using a donated Venice backdrop, and the idea of a "Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"-like girls' school was introduced (with the idea that very proper girls were presenting Moby Dick at a music festival in Venice). Then the idea of "hooch and hornification" came up, and the show took on a different flavor.

After a break of five years, Longden contacted Kaye about beefing up the show and making it a full-length musical. Following rewrites and the creation of a demo recording, they shopped their show to a half-dozen producers. The one who took the bait in 1991 was a whale of an impresario — Mackintosh, of Cats, Les Miz and The Phantom of the Opera fame.

A Mackintosh-backed test run in Oxford led to a West End production in 1993. The show ran about five months and had productions in Japan, Germany and elsewhere.

"When we saw that shows like Hairspray and The Producers were getting success, Cameron really thought it was time to unmothball our show," Kaye said of this 2003 renewal of the piece. "Since then, we've done a big job on it. Now we've got a tight show and a tight script."

The Moby Dick! credits are book by Robert Longden, additional material by Hereward Kaye; music by Hereward Kaye and Robert Longden; lyrics by Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye.

Prior to Moby Dick!, Kaye was a musical director, and a singer-songwriter in The Flying Pickets, a liberal a cappella band.