The clock is ticking on the spring Broadway prospects of By Jeeves, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Alan Ayckbourn musical comedy now enjoying a sold-out run at Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Goodspeed Musicals artistic producer Michael P. Price, who is ready to move the production to Broadway, partnering with Pittsburgh Public, told Playbill On-Line Feb. 14 that the Helen Hayes Theatre is the "preferred" spot, but owner Martin Markinson has not made it available, despite the fact that the current tenant, Dirty Blonde, has posted "last weeks." The search for a venue continues.
A source in Markinson's office confirmed a Feb. 14 New York Post report that the next offering at the 600-seat jewelbox is writer-actor-pianist Hershey Felder's Gershwin Alone, a solo play-with-music about the famed composer. However, Gershwin Alone press rep Keith Sherman later told Playbill On-Line that there is no official confirmation for the Felder show at the Hayes, and that plans for the show would be revealed in the coming weeks.
"It's premature for us to offer anything specific," Sherman said.
Meanwhile, Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde, starring Kathy Najimy, has not announced a closing date and showed a gain in attendance the week of Feb. 11. Sources have confirmed that Lloyd Webber himself contacted Felder in an attempt to secure the Hayes for a spring move, but the unknown Felder, playing David to Lloyd Webber's Goliath, would not budge from the Broadway prospect. Playbill On-Line confirmed a report in The New York Post that Lloyd Webber offered Felder a run in London in lieu of a Hayes occupancy.
Price said the urgency to get a Broadway space for By Jeeves is not so much about the Tony Award nomination deadline, May 2, but to keep the current cast together. John Scherer and Donna Lynne Champlin are poised to re-join the musical, 3hree, which has a Los Angeles staging in spring. Without some kind of commitment for a theatre and a Broadway contract, the By Jeeves actors (including crucial Scherer, who plays lead Bertie Wooster) must move on to other projects.
The show's designers and director Ayckbourn also have other commitments. Price said he would not rule out opening after May 2 — robbing the production of the important Tony marketing tool, but keeping the integrity of the staging — but said the deal would have to come through in the next week. There are currently no open theatres.
"It's all about real estate," Prince told Playbill On-Line. "We wanna be in New York, period," Price said. "We would have preferred the Hayes because it fits the show very nicely."
Price admitted that the window for By Jeeves may be closed by the end of this week.
"The only thing we can do is put up a tent in Shubert Alley," Price joked.
By Jeeves continues to March 4 at Pittsburgh Public Theater. The show had its American premiere in 1996 at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre and was further developed in Washington DC and Los Angeles, leading to the current production.
"It's a real contrast to everything else that's on the street," Price said of the show. "It's a funny, funny piece — it's off the wall."
"I've got my eye on the Helen Hayes as do the producers," Felder previously told Playbill On-Line, "but it all depends on what happens with Dirty Blonde."
John Scherer is bumbling Bertie Wooster and Martin Jarvis is his wise manservant, Jeeves, in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's staging of the Lloyd Webber-Ayckbourn musical, By Jeeves, Feb. 1-March 4. Official opening in Pittsburgh was Feb. 9.
Lauded British playwright Ayckbourn himself directs the staging at Pittsburgh's major resident professional theatre. He penned book and lyrics for the musical comedy; Lloyd Webber, who attended Jan. 31 rehearsals and the dress rehearsal, is the famed composer. By Jeeves is a rewrite of Jeeves, a 1975 musical by Ayckbourn and Lloyd Webber that did not find wide fame.
Based on the dry, charming, farcical Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse, By Jeeves takes place in a church hall where Bertie Wooster is scheduled to give a banjo recital. According to production notes, "Jeeves, a lover of music, steals the banjo, forcing Bertie to improvise with a dizzying tale full of romantic entanglements and mistaken identities involving his friends and their love interests."
Lloyd Webber is one of the most successful and popular theatre composers in history, having composed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jeeves (later reworked as By Jeeves), Evita, Variations and Tell Me on a Sunday (later combined as Song & Dance), Cats, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard, Whistle Down the Wind and The Beautiful Game.