After a delay, which saw its scheduled March 4 start pushed back as technical details and special effects were worked out, Johnny began previews March 9.
Joining Steve Blanchard as the title hunk (played on film by Sterling Hayden) are Judy McLane as Vienna (the Joan Crawford role), Ann Crumb as Emma (the Mercedes McCambridge part) and Robert Evan as the Dancin' Kid.
Rounding out the ensemble are Ed Sala, David Sinkus, Rob Sapp and Jason Edwards.
The show features a book by Nicholas van Hoogstraten, lyrics and music by Joel Higgins, and music by Martin Silvestri. Higgins directs. Jane Lanier choreographs. Producers are Definite Maybe Productions and Mark Kress, in association with Victoria Lang & Pier Paolo Piccoli & Century Center for the Performing Arts.
The 1954 film, directed in blinding Technicolor by Nicholas Ray ("Rebel Without a Cause"), featured Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in two notoriously over-the top performances. Crawford is Vienna, the keeper of a saloon and gambling emporium on the edge of a frontier town. McCambridge is Emma Small, the shrill Puritanical leader of a gang of townies dead set on running Vienna and her pals out of town. Sterling Hayden is the title cowpoke, once Vienna's paramour, now her protector. The film featured Crawford at her most mannered and stands as one of the few westerns in which the men take a backseat to the female characters. Bookwriter van Hoogstraten told Playbill On-Line the show is arch, but not camp. "You're gilding the lily if you make it camp." The songs, which include "Branded a Tramp," "Tell Me a Lie" and "Johnny Guitar," smack of the 1950s Hollywood western music sound of "Rawhide" and "Ghost Riders in the Sky."
McCambridge, the last surviving star from the film, died on March 2. In her memoir, she revealed that the hatred between her and Crawford's characters was matched by a similar animosity off the set.
Blanchard left his job at Beauty and the Beast on Feb. 12. McLane, who has worked extensively at the Paper Mill Playhouse, was in the original cast of Chess, as was Crumb, who is best known for her work in Aspects of Love and Anna Karenina. Evan played the title roles in Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde, and also appeared in Dance of the Vampires.
The production includes set design by Van Santfoord, lighting design by Ed McCarthy, costume design by Kaye Voyce and sound design by Laura Grace Brown.
This is the first musical for van Hoogstraten, who wrote the theatre history book, "Lost Broadway Theatres."