The biographical musical, A Class Act, drawing on the life and trunk songs of songwriter Edward Kleban, will go an extra week beyond its planned Manhattan Theatre Club run, and there is hope for a commercial future.
Good reviews and upbeat word of mouth will take the new musical, with a book by Lonny Price and Linda Kline, to Dec. 10 (rather than Dec. 3) at MTC's intimate Stage II.
And the show might not end there. There is talk in the theatre community that the small-cast show will make a legit move to Broadway. Those close to the production say the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway is a strong possibility. Observers say the starless show with a rarefied subject — a theatre songwriter who had only one hit but lots of hopes — has the feel of an Off-Broadway show, but would also be snug in a Broadway house, as it makes specific references to Broadway history, especially Kleban's lyric contributions to A Chorus Line. A spokesman for MTC said Nov. 16 there is no official word on any future for the show.
If an early 2001 move happens as expected, some casting will have to be juggled: Carolee Carmello is five months pregnant, Julia Murney has a featured role in Time and Again at MTC in January, and others in the cast may have offers elsewhere. Marty Bell, Chase Mishkin and Arielle Tepper are said to be the producing team.
Calling the show "starless," of course, is relative: The ensemble cast of Price (Merrily We Roll Along), Jonathan Freeman (How to Succeed..., She Loves Me), David Hibbard (Cats), Julia Murney (MTC's The Wild Party), Nancy Kathryn Anderson (Jolson & Co.), Randy Graff (City of Angels, High Society) and Ray Wills (Wonderful Town at Encores!) and Carolee Carmello (Parade, The Scarlet Pimpernel) is made up of performers known and respected for their work in Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. A Class Act will have a built-in marketing tool soon: A cast album was recorded Oct. 13. Release is a expected in Febraury 2001.
The curtain rose Nov. 9 on the opening of A Class Act, which co-librettist Price also directs and stars in. He stepped into the lead role of "Ed" at the last minute.
The opening was previously announced for Oct. 31, but the nature of shaping the world premiere musical prompted the delay. Previews began Oct. 3.
In the biographical show, Price plays real-life lyricist-composer Ed Kleban, who is best known for his lyrics to A Chorus Line. The show spotlights Kleban — known to be pushy, cranky, neurotic — as both composer and lyricist. His composing skills were not as well known, and it was a source of pain that he never landed big as a composer-lyricist.
The show was constructed by co-librettists Linda Kline (Kleban's longtime companion) and Price drawing on a hundred existing songs by Kleban. The tuner is presented in association with Musical Theatre Works, which Price heads. Scott Wise (Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Fosse, State Fair) choreographs. "Additional material" is by David Wolf.
A Class Act features unpublished songs (music and lyrics) written by Ed Kleban. Most have only rarely been performed, until now. The songs were "inherited by his friends when he died in 1987," according to production notes.
Kleban died of cancer before he matched the success he had contributing lyrics to 1975's A Chorus Line, his best known work. A prominent fund in his name (The Kleban Award, from The Kleban Foundation, Inc.) doles out annual cash prizes to up-and-coming lyricists and book writers.
Among characters is late musical director Lehman Engel, the blunt, bigger-than-life mentor to many songwriters, including Kleban, Maury Yeston, Skip Kennon, Alan Menken and others. The famous BMI Musical Theatre Workshop is named for Lehman Engel.
The score includes up-tempo numbers, ballads, comedy songs and more, the sort of stuff that is regularly discussed still today in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Some of the songs of A Class Act were heard years ago in the Engel class.
The score includes "Light On My Feet," "One More Beautiful Song," "Charm Song," "Paris Through the Window," "Mona," "Gauguin's Shoes," "Follow Your Star," "Better," "Next Best Thing to Love," "Broadway Boogie Woogie," "Say Something Funny" and more. The audience at a recent performance at MTC sighed audibly when snippets of Kleban's lyrics to A Chorus Line ("What I Did For Love," for example) were sung. Some of Marvin Hamlisch's music from that smash show is included in A Class Act.
Designers of A Class Act are James Noone (set), Carrie Robbins (costumes), Kevin Adams (lighting). Orchestrations are by Larry Hochman and musical direction is by Todd Ellison. Additional choreography is by Marguerite Derricks.
Co-librettist Kline has been committed to bringing his unpublished works to the stage since his death. She has written for television, and she also co-wrote the libretto for Theaterworks USA's The Secret Garden.
Director, actor and co-librettist Price is artistic director of Musical Theatre Works, which develops new works for the stage. His directing credits include Pal Joey (City Center), The Rothschilds, Juno and Sally Marr...and her escorts. As an actor, he has appeared in Master Harold...and the Boys, Merrily We Roll Along, Burn This, The Immigrant and Falsettoland.
Anderson received a 2000 Drama Desk nomination for her role in Jolson & Co., Carmello received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations (and won the Drama Desk Award, along with Bernadette Peters) for her role in Parade and won an Obie Award for her role in Hello Again, Freeman's credits include How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, She Loves Me (Tony nomination), and Platinum on Broadway, Graff received both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her role in City of Angels and appeared in High Society, Moon Over Buffalo, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and the Roundabout Theatre production of Hotel Suite, Hibbard appeared as Rum Tum Tugger in 2,197 performances of Cats, Murney returns to MTC after appearing as Queenie in Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party (Drama Desk nomination), Wills appeared in the recent revival of Wonderful Town at City Center Encores!
Tickets are $40. MTC's Stage II is at City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Call (212) 581-1212 or visit MTC online at www.manhattantheatreclub.com. Student tickets ($20 each) are on sale for all performances based on availability, one hour before show time (limit four per student with valid identification).