MTC Will Bring Screwball Comedy To Be or Not to Be to Broadway; Nicholaw Directs

News   MTC Will Bring Screwball Comedy To Be or Not to Be to Broadway; Nicholaw Directs
The dark screwball comedy, "To Be or Not to Be," the movie about theatre troupers in Poland during Nazi rule, has been adapted for the stage by Nick Whitby and will open Manhattan Theatre Club's 2008-09 Broadway season this fall.

Casey Nicholaw
Casey Nicholaw Photo by Aubrey Reuben

MTC confirmed that Casey Nicholaw, who directed and choreographed the fizzy musical The Drowsy Chaperone (for which he was Tony Award-nominated), will stage the world premiere of the comedy, to launch Sept. 11 toward an Oct. 2 opening at the Biltmore, the not-for-profit's Broadway home.

According to MTC, "At the Polski Theatre in 1939 Warsaw, Joseph and Maria Tura are about to open yet another smash with their theatrical troupe. As the German invasion gets underway, the theatre is closed by the censors, forcing the troupe to face desperate times. But when a handsome young bomber pilot enlists their help to catch a spy, what is a group of actors to do? This hilarious black comedy is an ingenious commentary on the World War II era and an inspired tribute to the timeless joys of the theatre."

Writer Whitby, making his New York City playwriting debut, has gone back to the 1942 film — directed by comedy master Ernst Lubitsch, with a screenplay by Edwin Justus Mayer (based on a story by Melchior Lengyel) — rather than the 1983 remake that starred Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. The original pic starred Jack Benny and Carole Lombard (her last film) as a famous theatre couple, the Turas, who — when the Nazis shut down their Warsaw troupe — outwit the regime with their theatrical skills.

The project would seem to offer opportunities for some of the most delicious character acting this side of The Producers. Expect to see a hammy lead actor (the Benny role), an easily-charmed leading lady, a crusty director, an aging ingenue, a motherly costume mistress, a rueful older character man, a handsome Polish air force pilot, a slobby Nazi colonel and more.

The 1983 Alan Johnson-directed remake inserted a song for Brooks and Bancroft ("Sweet Georgia Brown") that lifted the dark comedy's tone to the level of musical comedy (without it being a genuine musical). Fans of the latter film have whispered for years that the property would make a solid stage musical along the lines of The Producers. Whitby's plays, seen in England, include Bolivia, The Devil's Dancing Hour, Dirty Dishes and To the Green Fields Beyond.

German-born Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) is revered for the films "Heaven Can Wait," "The Shop Around the Corner," "Ninotchka," "That Uncertain Feeling," "One Hour With You," "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" and more.

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