Broadway producer Jon Wilner was so confident a theatre would open up for his revival of Mack & Mabel that he registered an April 23 opening night date with the League of American Theatres and Producers, but now he's aiming for a November start date.
Wilner told Playbill On-Line March 7 that he expected a vacancy on Broadway by now, but that hasn't happened, so he's planning on the revised revival of the 1974 Herman tuner to open at a 1,300-1,700-seat house in the fall. The money is in place, Bill Irwin is attached as a special movement director and Doug Sills and Donna McKechnie are still the stars, Wilner said, but Jane Krakowski's TV filming schedule may prevent her from playing silent film star Mabel Normand in the cult hit. Wilner said he plans to put British actress Caroline O'Connor — who appeared as Mabel in Wilner's 1995 London mounting of M&M — on Broadway come November.
Wilner said he's reluctant to put the show up in the summer, even if a space opens. "After the Tony nominations, nobody cares about your show," he said. "I've been working on doing this show here for 14 years — does six more months really matter?"
With all due respect to the performers, Wilner said, "The only thing I learned in London is that, ultimately, the score is the star of the show."
In the previous spring plan, Sills was to play filmmaker Mack Sennett, Jane Krakowski Mabel Normand and McKechnie their brassy cohort. Rehearsals were to start around March 1. All three actors appeared in the 2000 concert version mounted by Reprise!, the popular musical theatre concert series in L.A. In the Broadway revival, mime and movement artist Bill Irwin will stage the silent Mack Sennett sequences — live pieces that are inspired by Sennett comedies. Dan Siretta is the choreographer of the musical numbers.
Wilner previously produced an award-winning version of the show in London in 1995, and the Broadway staging would be a hybrid of various rewrites of the piece, including changes made for L.A. by Francine Pascal, sister of the show's late book writer, Michael Stewart. Wilner told Playbill On-Line that a splashy revival of Stewart and Pascal's George M! is on his plate for the future.
Sills became a sensation in the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Krakowksi is the theatre actress (Grand Hotel, Starlight Express) who found wider fame on TV's "Ally McBeal," and McKechnie is the theatre legend who rose from the chorus to shine in the glory of A Chorus Line. Since the spring time frame for M&M changed, Sills committed to the South Coast Repertory Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing.
When originally staged in 1974 with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the show was knocked for having a score that was at odds with the dark subject matter — mostly sunny songs mixed with a tempestuous relationship between the title characters that ends with the death of Mabel.
Wilner said the storytelling has been solved and the show is now a musical comedy that better mirrors the real story. "We're not dark," he said. "Francine went back to the true story. I'd put this Mack and Mabel book next to any book for a musical. The framework is Michael Stewart and 75 percent of the book is now Francine."
Although the genesis of this planned Broadway staging is the L.A. concert, Wilner said the production will be a fully-staged show, not a concert version. The orchestra will be on stage, however. Arthur Allan Seidelman, who directed in L.A., will helm. Wilner said the money is in place.
Wilner, the longtime ad executive who previously produced An Evening With Jerry Herman and Groucho, said his "first choice" for costume designer would be Florence Klotz.
What attracted Wilner to the project from the beginning is what keeps fans attached to the show: "The score!" said Wilner. "It deserves a chance."
In 1974, the Gower Champion-directed musical had a 66 performance run on Broadway (and a brief tour a few years later), but a cast album achieved cult status and spawned such cabaret and concert standards as "Time Heals Everything," "Tap Your Troubles Away" and "I Won't Send Roses." A song from the London version will be added. It's called "Mabel and Mack."
Hopes for a revised revival on Broadway came and went over the years, and stock productions with revisions were staged, but nothing moved to a larger arena.
— By Kenneth Jones