JFK Musical Jack Plans May 7-8 Showcase in NY

News   JFK Musical Jack Plans May 7-8 Showcase in NY
Jack, a musical about the early life of President John F. Kennedy, will give two special concert performances, May 7 and 8 in New York, seeking backers for an American production.

Jack, a musical about the early life of President John F. Kennedy, will give two special concert performances, May 7 and 8 in New York, seeking backers for an American production.

Focusing on JFK's relationship with his father, Joseph Kennedy, the musical workshopped as Jack at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT, in 1994, then world-premiered at the University of Oklahoma in 1995 -- in a full production starring John Cullum as Joseph Kennedy -- JFK was scheduled to run at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, Apr. 22-June 15, 1997, but the proposed eight-week tryout ended May 3, after a 10-day run.

The invitation-only concert will be given at a mid-town Off-Broadway theatre. Backers are sought for the show, which is still eyeing Broadway. Richard Winkler, best known as a lighting designer, is producing the reading.

Larry Fuller, who staged the piece in Ireland, returns again to direct. His other credits include choreographing Evita, Sweeney Todd, On The Twentieth Century and Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway.

In the reading cast will be Maurice Clarke and Monica Ernesti, repeating their Dublin roles as John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy. Clarke had played JFK in the West End musical King, about the life of Martin Luther King. Rita Gardner, Matt Bogart, Edmund Lyndeck and Gordon Joseph Weiss (Ghetto) have featured roles in Jack, backed by David Chaney, Bill E. Dietrich, Tim Hunter, Kelley Krugar, Marcus Neville, Sonya Rogers, Denny Tarver, Amy Weaver, Lynn Wilson and Bill Zeffiro. (The Dublin production was cast completely with Irish and English actors, including Clarke, Ernesti, Michael Londra and Brian De Salvo.)

Asked last year about JFK's Dublin demise, lead producer Stewart F. Lane (who is no longer connected to the project) told the press poor reviews were responsible. "Naturally I am very disappointed at the response from the critics. We had a wonderful international cast and very high production values, of which we are very proud. Dublin is a terrific town; I look forward to bringing my next show here."

A Playbill On-Line reader who attended the first preview said the musical was greeted with polite applause -- unusual for Dublin, "where most musicals get standing ovations."

Producer Lane told Playbill On-Line in May 1997, "The audiences were having a wonderful time. Gay Burns, the talk show host, even said we had standing ovations. Still, we tried to make it clear to the critics this was a musical drama, not a comedy or satire. Groups came in from America -- young and old alike loved the show. They all had a wonderful time."

"Yes," continued Lane, "it will need rewrites to get it up to New York speed. We're looking to redefine where the focus of the piece is. Right now it focuses on Joe Kennedy Sr., so the first act is almost a prologue to the JFK story. Joe Senior graduated from Harvard, he was the only Catholic in a Protestant school. Soon he learned that power is the name of the game, and in the late 1930s, he became ambassador to England. Act one covers that through John's run for Congress, but we need to see that sooner. We need to refocus on the son's story."

The musical's author/composer Will Holt (libretto for The Me Nobody Knows, Music Is, Platinum and Over Here!) and co librettist Tom Sawyer, initially changed the name from Jack to JFK because, as production spokesperson Keith Sherman told the New York Post, they feared the musical would be perceived as a "cutesy, song and dance show," whereas it's a more serious work. Musical numbers include "Harvard, Fairest Harvard," "Dear Dad," "I Have No Fear," "How's Jack Doing?", "Inaugural Ball."

Composer/librettist Holt has worked on Broadway's Me And Bessie, The Me Nobody Knows, Over Here!, Music Is, and Platinum. He's also workshopping the musical Adventure! with Gary William Friedman. Librettist Sawyer, head writer for TV's "Murder She Wrote," is the co creator and publisher of "Plots Unlimited" interactive software for fiction writers.

-- By David Lefkowitz

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