The Life, Cy Coleman's new musical about Times Square street life, opens April 26 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre -- in time to qualify for the 1997 Tony Awards.
The show recaptures the raffish pre-Disney Times Square, and deals with runaways, hookers and drug dealers. Coleman visited this territory once before -- in his 1973 musical Seesaw, though the lyrics by Ira Gasman and book by Superman writer David Newman (with Coleman and Gasman) reportedly get grittier than the sunny Seesaw did.
The Life stars Sam Harris and Pamela Isaacs. Much of the score was released as a concept album in 1996. Originally set in the mid to late 1970s, The Life has now pinpointed its time frame as 1980, a change made early in rewrites (according to a production spokesperson at the Jacksina Company).
"It's just right, the timing is right, the zeitgeist," Judy Jacksina said of The Life after returning from a rehearsal. "The show's been around for eight years, and I've been with it for three...not that I didn't believe in it before, but seeing Michael Blakemore work and Joey McKneely choreograph...it's beautiful." One aspect of the timing wasn't quite right, however. Originally announced for April 30, The Life ran into a conflict with the Roundabout Theatre's London Assurance, which long ago staked a claim for that evening -- the last possible night a show can open and still be eligible for the 1996-97 season's Tony Award consideration. The League of American Theatres and Producers generally discourages more than one Broadway show opening on a given date.
The show, which has been in rehearsal for at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music space, is scheduled to begin previews April 8. Its promotional material features a lady's foot in a high-heeled plastic platform shoe and the words, "You're not in Kansas anymore."
The last week before the Tony deadline is chockablock with Broadway openings. Here is the lineup, as of March 6: Titanic: The Musical on Wednesday, April 23; Steel Pier Thursday, April 24; The Life, Saturday, April 26; The Little Foxes Sunday April 27; Jekyll & Hyde Monday, April 28; Candide Tuesday, April 29 and London Assurance Wednesday April 30.
Roger Berlind is producing the Broadway show with Martin Richards, Sam Crothers and Coleman.
Sam Harris, one of the singing sensations from the Grease revival, stars as the story's narrator, flashing back over the gritty urban life he survived. Pamela Isaacs has the female lead of Queen, a prostitute struggling to get out of "the life." Kevin Ramsey is her Vietnam-vet beau, Lillias White (Lillias White, who stopped the show in How To Succeed In Business . . . and performed at The Life's Nov. 7, invitation-only reading at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street) plays another prostitute, Bellamy Young a fresh-off-the-bus innocent. Vernel Bagneris plays a bartender, Chuck Cooper a pimp and Rich Herbert a low-class filmmaker.
Michael Blakemore, the British director who helmed Coleman's the Tony winning City of Angels, will direct the show.Choreography is by Joey (Smokey Joe's Cafe and Whistle Down the Wind) McKneely.
Other credits for The Life: scenery by Robin Wagner, costumes by Martin Pakledinoz, lighting by Richard Pilbrow, music direction by Gordon Harrell, orchestrations by Don Sebesky and Harold Wheeler, dance and vocal arrangements by Coleman and Doug Katsaros.
The show's prospects were boosted by the May 1996 release of a The Life concept album on BMG/RCA Records. It features Jennifer Holliday, Liza Minnelli, George Burns, Lou Rawls, Joe Williams, Jack Jones, Peggy Lee, Billy Stritch, Bobby Short and other pop singers performing numbers from the show.
As listed on the concept CD, songs from the show include "A Piece Of The Action," "Use What You Got," "My Body," "We Had A Dream," "Easy Money" (to be sung by a 17-year-old prostitute), "My Way Or The Highway" (sung by the meanest pimp on the block) "Mr. Greed" (a dance number for three-card monte dealers), "The Hookers' Ball" and "He's No Good."
Coleman said he has gotten very positive responses from two large New York record stores. Colony Records in the theatre district reportedly told him the album of selling well, and Tower Records near Lincoln Center reported has re-ordered.
"It's a very interesting concept for theatre," Coleman mused about the idea of releasing a recording of a score before the show is mounted. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita were the first musicals to prove that concept albums could turn into stage musicals.
Coleman said he hopes cuts from The Life will get airplay on pop stations that numbers from an ordinary cast album would not.
The Life will be the latest show from multiple Tony-winner Coleman, who wrote scores to Sweet Charity, The Will Rogers Follies, City of Angels, Barnum and I Love My Wife, among others.