OB's The Dead Sings to a Sold-Out Audience Beginning Oct. 1; Nelson Co-Directs | Playbill

News OB's The Dead Sings to a Sold-Out Audience Beginning Oct. 1; Nelson Co-Directs
The box office for the new musical, James Joyce's The Dead, was so lively prior to its Oct. 1 first preview, at Playwrights Horizons, the show sold out before a note of it was played for the public.

The box office for the new musical, James Joyce's The Dead, was so lively prior to its Oct. 1 first preview, at Playwrights Horizons, the show sold out before a note of it was played for the public.

The process of creating the work was also lively: Richard Nelson, the book writer, co-conceiver and adapter of the lyrics, is now sharing co direction credit with Jack Hofsiss.

In a statement, Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford said that "midway through the rehearsal process" Nelson took a "primary role" in the direction of the piece "in order for this new musical play to be best served."

The "new billing accurately reflects the contribution that both men have made to this production," Sanford said.

Nelson's grasp of the British sensibility and subjects is well-known to followers of his work, Goodnight Children Everywhere, Some Americans Abroad and Two Shakespearean Actors. American playwright Nelson has been a director in New York and London, recently staging his own Goodnight Children Everywhere at Playwrights and Kenneth's First Play (written with Colin Chambers) for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Unlucky, ticketless theatergoers who wanted to see Christopher Walken sing as the remote Irish husband in this stage version of the short story classic will now wait and see if there is a life after The Dead's initial run through Nov. 14.

Official opening is expected for Oct. 28. It's assumed that producers Arielle Tepper and Gregory Mosher are interested in continuing The Dead if audiences and critics embrace the work, which has music, lyrics and orchestrations by Irish composer Shaun Davey.

A spokesman urged that, for now, the focus is on the six-week run.


The combination of Irish-brogued Joyce's classic story and a cast that includes Walken ("The Deer Hunter") and Blair Brown prompted theatregoers to flock to the Off-Broadway Horizons box office.

Film actor Walken ("Pennies from Heaven," in which he danced and sang) and Brown (known for TV's "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" and Broadway's Cabaret and Arcadia) will be the Irish husband and wife, Gabriel and Gretta Conroy, in the new Nelson-Davey adaptation.

The musical credits read: book by Richard Nelson, music by (Irish composer) Shaun Davey, lyrics conceived and adapted by Richard Nelson & Shaun Davey. Charles Prince is musical director.

An authors' program note reads: "The lyrics to some of these songs have been adapted from or inspired by a number of 18th and 19th-century Irish poems by Oliver Goldsmith, Lady Sydney Morgan, Michael William Balfe, William Allingham and from an anonymous 19th century music hall song. Other lyrics are adapted from the Joyce or are original."

A solid group of Tony Award winners and nominees sings The Dead.

Joining Walken and Brown are former Side Show Tony Award nominees Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley as Molly Ivors and Mary Jane, respectively, Tony Award-winner Daisy Eagan (grown up now, since her Tony win in The Secret Garden) as Rita and Young Julia, two-time Tony-winner Stephen Spinella (Angels in America) as Freddy Malins, Tony nominee Sally Ann Howes (1963's Brigadoon revival, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") as Aunt Julia and Marni Nixon (famous as the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film "My Fair Lady") as Aunt Kate.

The 13-performer company also includes Brian Davies (the original Hero of A Funny Thing Happened...) as Mr. Browne, Paddy Croft (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and 1999's Night Must Fall) as Mrs. Malins, Dashiell Eaves (the recent revivals of 1776 and The Sound Music) as Michael, performance artist John Kelly as tenor Bartell D'Arcy and Brooke Sunny Moriber (Parade) as Lily.

Co-director Hofsiss is a regional and Broadway director who might be best known for The Elephant Man (for which he won a direction Tony) and The Shadow Box.


The Dead is the tale of a wife who conjures the past to reveal an aching unhappiness in her marriage. The story, drawn from Joyce's collection, "Dubliners," is set at the Christmastime party of Gabriel's music-loving aunts. A song sung at the holiday party revives wife Gretta's buried memories of a boy she loved as a teenager and who died young. As husband Gabriel listens to Gretta relate the tale of her early love, he realizes a man he never knew has had a grip on his wife's imagination for years. Gabriel grapples with the revelation that the dead -- even the unknown dead -- never release their hold on the living.

Designing the Off-Broadway staging are David Jenkins (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting) and Scott Lehrer (sound). Choreography is by Sean Curran, a Stomp dancer since 1994 and a vet of the Bill T. Jones /Arnie Zane Dance Company.


Gregory Mosher and Arielle Tepper had hoped to produce "The Dead," on Broadway in 1998-99, but the planning came too late in the season to raise the necessary funding. The Playwrights Horizons staging is produced "by special arrangement" with Mosher and Tepper.

The story was made into a film in 1987, starring Angelica Huston and the recently deceased Donal McCann, under the direction of John Huston (the film was Huston's last).

As in the film, the theatre piece will feature singing and dancing, though Mosher was reluctant to call The Dead a musical. He told Playbill On-Line earlier in 1999 that he refers to the piece as a "play with music." A spokesman for the show said "musical play" is accurate, too: Characters don't just sing presentational Irish tunes, there are character-specific songs.

Among Davey's songs is a number for Gretta, telling the story of her lost love. The final song of the evening maps the course of Joyce's story's famous last paragraph: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Songs in the musical, as of the first preview, include "Killarney's Lakes," "Kate Kerney," "Parnell's Plight," "Adieu to Ballyshannon," "When Lovely Lady," "Three Jolly Pigeons," "Goldenhair," "Three Graces," "Naughty Girls," "Wake the Dead," "D'Arcy's Aria," "Queen of Our Hearts," "When Lonely Lady (reprise)," "Michael Furey," "The Living and the Dead."

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