Bumper Crop of New Musicals Planned at Regionals

News   Bumper Crop of New Musicals Planned at Regionals
Who says there're no new American musicals? Certainly no one familiar with regional theatre. New musicals, one or two of which will surely ease on down the road to Broadway, are popping up at regional theatres, north, south, east, and west, between now and the end of the year.

Who says there're no new American musicals? Certainly no one familiar with regional theatre. New musicals, one or two of which will surely ease on down the road to Broadway, are popping up at regional theatres, north, south, east, and west, between now and the end of the year.

Here's a sampling of what you can expect to see this summer or in the near future:

*Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), Houston, working closely with the Irving Berlin estate and the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization will kick off their 1997-98 season with the premiere Easter Parade. Except for Berlin, you might call this an all-Texas production since the creative team all hail from that state. Tommy Tune and Sandy Duncan will co-star and Tune will direct with Phillip Osterman and choreograph with Tad Tadlock.

According to Ted Chapin, president and executive director of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which has administered the Berlin catalog for five years, "Mr. Berlin's three daughters well know their father's reputation for being quite guarded and standoffish about not only revivals of his shows but also the use of his songs. They're trying to change that. They're smart enough to realize that their father's catalog will only stay alive if people are allowed access to it.

Chapin explained that this venture began "when Tommy asked our vice president Vicki Traube for scripts. Over lunch we discussed The Boys from Syracuse and No Strings and that led to discussing the Berlin catalog. "After the lunch, Tommy rented a video of (the 1948 film musical starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland) Easter Parade,. The next day he called and said, 'I want to do this.'" We were soon invited to ICM, the agency that represents Tommy, and there in the conference room were Sandy, Marcia Lewis, and Tommy with Wally Harper at the piano. They performed Act I. It was a lot of fun but I thought 'This isn't the way these things happen.'"

Tune wanted time to work on his concept and told Chapin "Make this happen." TUTS contacted the Ordway in Minneapolis and Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre to arrange a coproduction. Chapin said that the Texas and subsequent productions are definitely "pre-Broadway." "Tommy comes from a tradition of out of town tryouts," he reported. "And this has great potential, coming from three first rate regional theatres who develop new musicals. How and when Broadway will work into this picture, well time will tell. In the next few months, a real plan will develop.

On May 10 and 11 Tune, Duncan, Don Amendolia, and a cast of eight presented a staged reading of Act I at TUTS's Cullen Theatre. One of Berlin's daughters, Linda Louise Emmet, who lives in Paris, attended with members of the R&H Organization. Like the film score for the film, the adaptors dig deep into the Berlin catalog for musical numbers.

*Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT, a regional theatre exclusively committed to the development of new musicals, will premiere Lucky In the Rain, the new musical with songs by Jimmy McHugh and Walter Adamson, plays July 9 - September 19. Scott Wise, Marla Schaffel, and Patrick Wilson will co-star. Christopher Ashley will direct, with choreography by Randy Skinner.

*From September 24-December 14, the 398-seat Goodspeed mainstage concludes its season with the premiere of James Racheff and William Scott Duffield's new musical Houdini, based on the life of the legendary magician. Gabriel Barre will direct.

*Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre, August 7-31 premieres Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell's new musical comedy Gotham!, in which a medieval English town convinces the king to relocate his castle. When the Royals mix with the common people, all sorts of romantic entanglements and bizarre situations occur.

Previous collaborations by Bernstein and Markell include Upstairs at O'Neal's and A Backers Audition, and their work is included in A...My Name is Still Alice. Parts of Gotham were featured in a 1994 review of new musicals called Dim Sum, performed by Favored Nations. The title song, Gotham! has been released by Varese Sarabande on "Broadway Bound," sung by Harry Groener and Liz Larsen.

Jennifer Wislocki, spokesperson for Goodspeed, also reported that a third new musical -- yet to be selected -- will play in the 200-seat Norma Terrace Theatre October 30-November 23.

*The Muny, St. Louis, America's largest (12,000 seats in historic Forrest Park, July 7-13 will world premiere Three Coins in the Fountain, with songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, based on the 1954 film about three American women in Rome who wish romantic at the famous Trevi fountain. The title song won an Academy Award. The production is conceived and adapted by Muny executive producer Paul Blake (he adapted last season's sleeping Beauty using Jerome Kern music), in collaboration with Doris Baisley, a Los Angeles-based writer he hand-picked for the project.

Joel Higgins, who played Edward Stratton III on TVs Silver Spoons and wrote the musical The Fields of Ambrosia (which premiered at New Brunswick, NJ's George Street Playhouse and played the Aldwych Theatre on London's West End) and whose Broadway credits include City Of Angels, the Oklahoma! revival, and Shenandoah, stars with Leslie Denniston, best known for her work as Maeve Stoddard on TVs daytime drama The Guiding Light. Denniston, a popular Muny star the last four seasons, appeared on Broadway, in Los Angeles and San Francisco in City Of Angels and in the Broadway revival of Shenandoah. Lara Teeter, who played the scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz at the Theatre at New York's Madison Square Garden (a role he'll repeat this summer at the Muny) will co-star. Teeter was nominated for a 1983 Tony Award for his off-beat dancing professor in the Broadway revival of On Your Toes,just one of many Broadway roles for the actor/dancer/singer.

The production score will feature such Styne/Cahn standards as "Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night Of the Week," "I'll Walk Alone," "It's Magic," "Time After Time," "I've Heard That Song Before," "It's Been A Long, Long Time," and "The Song Has Got To Come from the Heart."

"These songs are so powerful," said Blake. "They were and are a part of all our lives. We dated to them, married to them, and fought to them [in World War II]."

Styne is best known as composer of Gypsy with Stephen Sondheim, Funny Girl with Bob Merrill, and Bells Are Ringing and Peter Pan with Comden and Green).

The production is the realization of a dream for Blake, who toured with Cahn the last five years of his life, producing Sammy Cahn in Concert.

...Fountain will be choreographed by Gemze de Lappe, who for many years was assistant to Agnes DeMille. Hugh Martin, who was MGM's premiere vocal arranger, will do vocal arrangements.

*Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT, ends its 33rd season with Liz Callaway, taking a break from her Grizabella role in Broadway's soon-to-be longest running musical Cats, starring through June 15 in The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm, a revue of hits by brothers George and Ira Gershwin.

Beth Leavel and Mary Bond Davis are among those featured in the cast of 10. Artistic director Mark Lamos collaborated with Mel Marvin on the production, which features choreography by David Marques (The Return Of Martin Guerre at Chicago's Goodman). Songs include "Strike Up The Band," "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," "Embraceable You," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

*Barry Manilow joins the ranks of pop composers writing for the theater. Manilow is providing the music to Bruce Sussman's lyrics and book for Harmony, which goes up October 19 at the La Jolla Playhouse, LaJolla, CA and runs through November 23. It's inspired by the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, six young 1920 Germans who rose from street musicians to world-famous entertainers who made movies and sold millions of records. But the group's mix of Jews and Gentiles led to clashes with the Nazis.

Harmony will be directed by David Warren, who did the recent Broadway Roundabout revival of Summer And Smoke.

This isn't Manilow's first foray into theatre. He wrote the score for Off-Broadway's The Drunkard -- when he was 18. It ran eight years. In 1994 he wrote the score for Warner Bros.'s animated feature Thumbelina. Sussman scored the Off-Broadway musical Miami with book by Wendy Wasserstein.Coming

Michael Grief, artistic director of La Jolla who's currently directing the West Coast premiere of Rent, which he directed Off Broadway and on Broadway, said of Harmony, "I've been aware of and inspired by the Comedian Harmonists for many years. My production of Machinal was influenced by their urban style of music-making: jazz, classical and popular music of their day. Barry's music for Harmony captures that stylized, breakthrough sound."

Manilow called writing the Harmony score "the most challenging and creative journey of my career. I've tried to probe every musical style I loved."

-- By Ellis Nassour and David Lefkowitz

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