Jerry Zaks Now Attached to Ludwig's Shakespeare in Hollywood

News   Jerry Zaks Now Attached to Ludwig's Shakespeare in Hollywood
Jerry Zaks has signed on as director of Shakespeare in Hollywood, Ken Ludwig's fanciful new comedy about the creation of the Warner Bros. film, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Ludwig told Playbill On-Line.

The show had its premiere Sept. 5-Oct. 19, 2003, at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage. The work won three Helen Hayes Awards on May 10.

Ludwig said he hoped the play's next stop would be New York. Both he and Zaks—who teamed famously on the Tony-nominated Lend Me a Tenor—both have histories at the Roundabout Theatre Company; Ludwig's adaptation of Twentieth Century is currently playing at the Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre. The playwright mentioned the nonprofit had crossed his mind as a possible home for Hollywood.

Zak's Little Shop of Horrors in now running on Broadway.

Broadway's Alice Ripley (Side Show, The Rocky Horror Show) made her Arena debut playing a character named Lydia Lansing — mistress to studio chief Jack Warner — in the Kyle Donnelly-directed production.

Casey Biggs played Oberon and Robert Prosky (a two-time Tony Award nominee) was famed Austrian stage director Max Reinhardt, who directed the 1935 film of the Shakespeare fantasia. "Shakespeare in Hollywood is the entertaining fusion of Hollywood glitz, classic theatrical productions and Shakespeare's poetry around an event in cinema history – the making of Max Reinhardt's 1935 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,'" according to production notes.

Reinhardt's film featured several legendary stars of American movies: Jimmy Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Dick Powell and Joe E. Brown – all of whom feature prominently as characters in Shakespeare in Hollywood. Look for columnist and studio chief Jack Warner, too.

"This play is about the clash of high culture and popular comedy in America, especially in the world of the movies," Ludwig said in production notes. "It's also about how the imagination is such an important part of all our lives. These themes are set in the world of a 1930s screwball comedy. For me, this production is a dream come true; it's my first time working at Arena Stage, and for that I thank [Arena Stage artistic director] Molly Smith from the bottom of my heart."

In the new comedy, Puck and Oberon are returning to a wood near Athens, as directed at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Puck mistakenly follows a sign that says "A Wood Near Athens." That sign is on a 1934 Hollywood sound stage at Warner Bros.

"They become engulfed in this movie that's being made around them," Ludwig told Playbill On-Line. "Oberon falls in love with one of the actresses, and Puck falls in love with just being there and getting treated like a star."

People at the studio think the fantasy figures are studio actors. When Victor Jory and Mickey Rooney have to unexpectedly leave the project, Oberon and Puck get cast as Oberon and Puck. (Jory and Rooney both did the movie.)

Olivia de Havilland is in the story, but she has been renamed Olivia Darnell "because Ms. de Havilland is still alive and I didn't want to offend her in any way," Ludwig said.

The play began as a commission from the Royal Shakespeare Company. After deciding Shakespeare and Hollywood might make a good match for a comedy, Ludwig did his Hollywood research and found that some classics were turned into movies because it was the wish of the studio mogul's wife or mistress — "because she wanted a prestige picture."

"A lot of these films were made as vanity productions," Ludwig said. "Studios were also in terrific competition with each other. As soon as one did one, the other one said, 'Hey, I can be as smart as that guy! I can do Shakespeare, too!'"

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