Benanti's casting was announced Dec. 9 at a press event attended by Playbill.com. Benanti is a Tony Award winner for her performance in the 2008 revival of Gypsy. She earned Tony Award nominations for her work in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Into the Woods and Swing! She can currently be seen on the ABC series "Nashville."
According to the show's creators, "Benanti will play the lead female role of Jenna, a billionaire and CEO of her own company, who just purchased a NYC tour company that she plans to take virtual. She has friends in high places, a few you may recognize, but little does she know that she’s about to embark on an unforgettable New York City adventure with Rockettes!"
Other stars in the production will be announced at a later date.
It was also revealed that Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels, who makes her Broadway debut this season with Finding Neverland, has been tapped to choreograph the show's opening number.
The production was originally conceived as Heart and Lights, which was abruptly halted days before performances were scheduled to begin last spring. Previews of Heart and Lights, which was written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Doug Wright (The Little Mermaid, Grey Gardens, I Am My Own Wife), were scheduled to begin performances March 27. In a rare move, MSG Entertainment pulled the plug on the production March 21, stating that the project would be postponed to 2015 due to additional work needed on the production.
MSG Entertainment announced last month that it had partnered with the Weinstein Company to revamp Heart and Lights with a new creative team involved. Harvey Weinstein, who is collaborating with Paulus on the new Broadway musical Finding Neverland, was among the industry insiders brought in to offer feedback during final run-throughs of the troubled Heart and Lights in 2014.
Among the new talents who are reshaping the project are Tony Award-winning After Midnight helmer Warren Carlyle, who will direct and choreograph, with Pippin, Porgy and Bess director Paulus and Sleep No More and Queen of the Night's Weiner as co-creative directors.
Opening night is set for March 26 for a run through May 3.
Joshua Harmon, the young playwright who earned acclaim for Off-Broadway's Bad Jews, has written a new story for the stage show that previously focused on two cousins having an unexpected adventure as they uncovered the story of their grandmother's past in New York City. The New York Spring Spectacular has been reshaped into "an inspiring and hopeful narrative about three New Yorkers who change each other's lives in unexpectedly wonderful ways."
The production will retain the costumes and innovative technology, including 3D effects, elaborate animatronics and GPS elements that were conceived for Heart and Lights. The production will feature original songs, classics and pop hits.
Here's how the new production is billed: "Bernie has been giving old fashioned tours of New York for decades, but his company was just bought by Jenna, a whipsmart techie with plans to fire Bernie and turn his tours into a virtual reality wonderland. Bernie's in trouble. Enter Jack, a spirited young man with a secret agenda of his own: If he can help Bernie keep his job, Jack will get an eternal reward. With the assistance of the legendary Rockettes, and guest appearances by some of your favorite New Yorkers, Bernie takes Jenna-- and the audience - on the tour of a lifetime, from the Statue of Liberty to Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By the last stop of this whirlwind adventure, these three people will be forever changed, and they will never look at the city the same way again."
"On behalf of the creative team, we are honored to bring the passion of our amazing city center stage at Radio City Music Hall," said Carlyle and Paulus in a joint statement. "With New York City and Radio City Music Hall as the backdrop for this whirlwind and heartwarming New York production, which features the Rockettes, coupled with fantastic music and dance sequences, costumes, technology and one-of-a-kind puppetry – our collective creative inspirations for New York Spring Spectacular are limitless. We look forward to delivering an unforgettable experience that audiences will treasure each spring."
"Together with Warren, Diane, Randy, and Josh we hope to create an experience that families from around the world will love as they come and experience all the joys and excitement of our hometown New York City," said Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman, The Weinstein Company, in a statement. "We are thrilled to work with MSG Entertainment and look forward to honoring the rich legacy of Radio City that dates back to creative visionaries like Vincente Minnelli, and creating another New York tradition for generations to come."