The Manhattan industry reading was to have been seen Dec. 16, with Dunn playing the woman in the lives of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, the guiding forces behind M-G-M's classic movie musical.
Creator and director Tom Mullen told Playbill.com that dance is so intrinsic to the new piece, and that Dunn has such a solid history with the project, that plugging another dancer into the reading seemed imprudent. He and his collaborators, playwright Jay Berkow and choreographer Jamie Rocco, are looking ahead to an early 2006 presentation with a healed Dunn.
The work in progress had its developmental premiere in summer 2005 at Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck, MI, with Broadway's Colleen Dunn and Sean Martin Hingston. Both Contact stars were to have appeared in the New York City presentation, directed by Glorious Feeling conceiver Tom Mullen.
The creative team also includes Albert Evans (musical arrangements). Since the summer staging, the work has gone through some rewrites, Mullen told Playbill.com.
The work is billed this way: "Three hoofers, two directors and one shot at making the greatest movie musical of all time!"
The New York reading cast was to also include Robert Ari, Josh Prince and Sarah Stiles. Hingston had the Gene Kelly role.
For more information, call (773) 856-0897 or email Gloriousfeeling@hotmail.com.
Mullen conceived the intimate small-cast show, which he calls "a play with music" and an "exploration of creative and romantic temperaments" set in the heyday of the M-G-M movie musicals. It's also a revealing portrait of the late dancer-actor-director-choreographer Kelly.
Following a February 2005 workshop in Manhattan, What a Glorious Feeling played its more fully realized (yet still modest) test run Aug. 24-Sept. 11 at Mason Street Warehouse, the three-year-old resident Equity house that Mullen ran with co-artistic producing director Kurt Stamm in Saugatuck, MI. Mullen is no longer attached to Mason Street.
The piano and percussion show doesn't use famous songs to advance plot (the characters aren't singing to one another, per se). The tunes show rehearsals, set a mood or create the atmosphere of the studio system in the 1950s.
Mullen told Playbill.com that Gene Kelly is not seen here as the clean-cut, fresh-faced character known from such pictures as "On the Town," "Anchors Aweigh" and "Singin' in the Rain." He's driven, conflicted, jealous and demanding.
In the show, as in life, his partnership with director Stanley Donen splinters professionally and personally. Dancer Jeanne Coyne (played by Colleen Dunn), a dance assistant for the men, is the woman in the middle of a romantic triangle here. She eventually became wife to both men, at different times. Donen is the only one of the three still living.
Mullen, a fan of the 1952 movie "Singin' in the Rain," which is considered by many to be the apex of M-G-M's musical films, read biographies of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, including a book by Kelly's ex-wife Betsy Blair, and "was intrigued that Kelly and Donen never spoke again after 'Singin' in the Rain' — although they had to when they fulfilled a studio contract [for 'It's Always Fair Weather']."
When Mullen discovered there were professional and personal complications with dancer Coyne, he felt he stumbled onto the stuff of good backstage musicals — and, he said, the makings for a good episode of an "E! True Hollywood Story."
Writer Jay Berkow is known for Off-Broadway's popular Jolson and Company.
Jamie Rocco is choreographing and has choice song material to work with, including tunes from "Royal Wedding," "Singin' in the Rain," "Cover Girl," "On the Town," "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and obscurities cut from "Singin' in the Rain" more.
Mullen said the style of What a Glorious Feeling is unique and not traditional.
"It's a play with music and dance," he said. "You'll see the rehearsal process, fragments of routines and sections of famous numbers. There's very little singing it, there's a lot dance — Jamie Rocco's calling it a hybrid show."
The skeletons of famous movie dance routines are seen in What a Glorious Feeling, and Rocco also creates his own original choreography. Video will also be used in the show, but no M-G-M material is being screened.
Is it a negative view of Kelly? "I think it's a really great emotionally-hopeful piece," Mullen said. "You get to see this man who think you know so well. You see his madness and his genius and you feel incredibly sympathetic toward him."
Michael Sobie was musical director of the Michigan run.