The new musical collaboration between pop legend Billy Joel and choreographer Twyla Tharp will have an out-of-town tryout in Chicago before hitting Broadway in September 2002. According to a recent casting notice, the as-yet-unnamed musical will begin previews in Chicago on June 15, 2002, for a summer run through the end of August. Rehearsals are to start April 29, 2001. No theatre was specified. James Nederlander, Jr., who is producing the show, was not immediately available for comment.
The musical, provisionally called The Thoel Project, had a workshop over the Oct. 6-7 weekend. The story reportedly concerns three friends who grow up in the 1960s and go on to fight in Vietnam. One is killed in the war and another comes to blame the third for the man's death. The show will incorporate existing Joel songs as well some new material the songwriter will pen for the show. The New York Post said the musical incorporates the songs "Innocent Man," "Big Shot," "River of Dreams" and "Movin' Out."
The workshop features Scott Wise, Michael Cavanaugh and Elizabeth Parkinson.
According to the casting notice, Tharp is looking for dancers steeped in ballet. Stuart Malina is the music director on the venture.
Joel had talked about writing a musical off and on over the years. The self-styled "piano man" from Long Island has steadily hit the pop charts since his breakthrough 1977 album, "The Stranger." Since then, he has recorded such records as "52nd Street," "Glass Houses," "The Nylon Curtain," "Storm Front," "An Innocent Man" and "River of Dreams." Among his best known songs are "Only the Good Die Young," "Just the Way You Are," "My Life," "You May Be Right," "Tell Her About It," "Uptown Girl," "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "A Matter of Trust." *
Back in the fall of 1997, Joel went on the record that he was considering doing one and possibly two Broadway musicals—one based on his existing songs, the other reportedly using an original score. The New York Post published a story at that time saying Joel was working on a musical titled Piano Man. Joel's office issued the following statement: "I have discussed the possibility of a Broadway musical based on my songs with several Broadway production people. Anything that has transpired to date is purely exploratory and pre-workshop. Accordingly, we are not encouraging speculation right now, but don't rule anything out."
Joel is only the latest pop musician to venture into the world of theatre. Past pop artists who have crossed over (with varying success) include: Paul Simon (The Capeman), Harry Connick, Jr. ( Thou Shalt Not) Pete Townsend (The Who's Tommy), Randy Newman (Randy Newman's Faust), Roger Miller (Big River), Barry Manilow (Copacabana and Harmony) and Dennis DeYoung (Hunchback), Jimmy Buffett (Don't Stop The Carnival), The Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever), the Pet Shop Boys (Closer to Heaven) and the composing half of ABBA (Mamma Mia!).
—By Robert Simonson