Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia will unveil a new and expanded version of It's Better With a Band, a revue of David Zippel songs first seen in New York City almost 20 years ago, but this time starring John Barrowman, Judy Blazer, Marva Hicks and Sally Mayes.
Joe Leonardo, director of the theatre program at Temple University, directs the newly-minted show, beginning performances Sept. 18 and continuing through Oct. 6. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 3.
The title is borrowed from a revue with Zippel lyrics that was seen Off-Broadway in 1983.
"Can it be that long ago?" Zippel observed to Playbill On Line. "Then, the show was done with just a piano. This time we are going to have a five piece band. The show is 70 percent new — the first version was done before I had written with Cy Coleman [and] Marvin Hamlisch, and I was just beginning to write with Alan Menken."
Zippel took home a Tony Award for penning the witty, sophisticated lyrics to the musical comedy, City of Angels (music by Coleman) and collaborated with Hamlisch on The Goodbye Girl. He and composer Menken wrote songs for the animated Disney feature, "Hercules" (for which he was Academy Award-nominated) and he penned lyrics for Disney's "Mulan," with composer Matthew Wilder (earning him his second Oscar nom, his second Grammy nomination and his third Golden Globe nomination). Zippel, Leonardo and musical director Christopher Marlowe "have woven together 20 songs by an array of great composers in a sophisticated and spirited new revue," according to production notes.
Featured in It's Better With a Band will be fresh interpretations of songs ranging from "You Can Always Count on Me" (City of Angels), "Another Mr. Right" (Going Hollywood), "It Started with a Dream" (Pamela's First Musical), "Go the Distance" ("Hercules"), "Reflections" ("Mulan") and "It's Better with a Band," written for and recorded by Broadway legend Barbara Cook.
The show is presented by arrangement with Susan Dietz and Roger Gindi, who will shepherd the show to any potential commercial future.
Zippel's playful lyrics, purposely bending the language, put him in the tradition of musical comedy masters such as Ira Gershwin, Yip Harburg and Lorenz Hart, industry observers have said. His work, which earned Drama Desk and Drama Critics Circle awards and Golden Globe, Grammy and Academy Award nominations, has also been recorded by 98 Degrees, Christina Aguilera, Ricky Martin, Jefferey Osborne and Mel Torme. Zippel contributed to such Off Broadway shows as A...My Name is Alice, Hal Prince's Diamonds, Just So and 5,6,7,8...Dance! His lyrics for "The Swan Princess," an animated feature with music by Lex De Azevedo, were nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Zippel also wrote the theme-song lyrics for the TV sitcom, "Veronica's Closet."
With David Friedman he started Midder Music, a record company created to introduce the world to the singing of Nancy LaMott.
Among his developing projects are a Napoleon and Josephine-related musical comedy with Coleman and Larry Gelbart; a stage version of the Wendy Wasserstein tale, Pamela's First Musical, with Coleman; and the musical, Going Hollywood.
In 1983, at Don't Tell Mama, It's Better With a Band starred Nancy LaMott, Jenifer Lewis, Catherine Cox and Patrick Quinn; Alyson Reed was a standby. It moved Off Broadway and Scott Bakula replaced Quinn. The understudy was Donna Murphy.
The new cast includes Broadway alums Marva Hicks (The Lion King; Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music), Sally Mayes (Tony nominated for She Loves Me; Welcome to the Club), John Barrowman (Bobby in Company at the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration; Broadway's Putting It Together) and Judith Blazer (Titanic; Me and My Girl).
Designers are Mark Mariani (costumes), Michael Gilliam (lighting) and Ray Klausen (sets).
Leonardo has directed national tours of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Me and My Girl, Ziegfield: A Night at the Follies, City of Angels and Bully, and co created and directed the national tour of the theater-circus spectacular Cirque Ingenieux. This is his debut at the Prince. His production of the new musical, At Wit's End, premiered at Florida Stage in south Florida and received 11 Carbonell Award nominations, and will have its Midwest premiere at Northlight Theatre in spring 2003. He is an artistic director of NETworks, the tour producer.
"The lyricist is the unsung hero of song-writing — we recognize the composer, but rarely the artist whose words make the song memorable and theatrical," Prince Music Theater producing artistic director Marjorie Samoff said in production notes. "As part of our mission to nurture contemporary artists, we're proud to bring to the forefront a lyricist whose words can be edgy and inspiring, funny and moving, and create an entire dramatic story in a four-minute song."
Opening is Sept. 21. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 3. Tickets are $25-$48. Prince Music Theater is Philly's resident professional theatre committed to creating musical theatre. For ticket information, call (215) 569-9700 or visit www.princemusictheater.org.
— By Kenneth Jones