The rare Duke Ellington-John Latouche musical, Beggar's Holiday, from 1946, inspired by John Gay's Beggar's Opera (1728), gets a concert revival Oct. 1-3 in The York Theatre Company's Musicals in Mufti series.
In honor of the Ellington centenary, a revised book by Dale Wasserman (Man of La Mancha) will be heard, under the direction of Kent Gash, a regional director in residence at Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
At the York, Jerry Dixon plays Macheath in the musical, which draws on the same John Gay source material that The Threepenny Opera did. Lana Gordon is Flora, Pamela Isaacs (The Life) is Miss Jenny, Kenneth Kantor is Capt. Lockit and others, La Chanze (Once On This Island, Ragtime) is Lucy Lockit, Joe Langworth is Highbinder and others, Jesse Means is Wireboy and others, Cheryl Monroe is Cozy Cool and others, Amy Jo Phillips is Mrs. Peachum and Dolly Diddle, Ken Prymus (Cats, Ain't Misbehavin') is Mr. Peachum and others, Tami Swartz is Polly Peachum, Glenn Turner is Sneaky Pete.
The famed orchestrator Luther Henderson (the Broadway production's musical director) will be music supervisor. Leonard Oxley is musical director.
According to Erik Haagensen, who is working at the York this season on a new revue of Latouche's lyrics, the musical is historically significant "as the first Broadway musical to present a serious interracial romance." He told Playbill On-Line, "When Alfred Drake kissed Jet MacDonald, immediate and nightly walk outs occurred." Drake played Macheath, the leader of a gang of whites and blacks in New York City.
Although it played 111 performances at the Broadway Theatre, and was favorably received by several critics, the work is all but forgotten today. The original cast featured the Broadway debut of Zero Mostel as Hamilton Peachum.
The York staging's director, Gash, is a regional director who staged an African-American-cast Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for TheatreVirginia in 1998-99.
In attendance for the weekend post-show discussions will be Mildred Smith Hepburn, who starred as Lucy in the 1946 original; Luther Henderson, the show's original musical director; and (on Sunday only) famed dancer-choreographer Marge Champion, 80, who was in the original chorus.
The Mufti series, as per the military-rooted title, is presented in "civilian" clothes (usually accessorized) with no set. It's best described as a concert series, with performances of the entire script of shows and actors carrying scripts in hand.
Musical theatre buffs have flocked to the limited runs in past seasons because the focus is on obscure, overlooked or (as York has called them) "underappreciated" shows that deserve another gander.
Each of the three productions in the Mufti series run five performances and has 35 hours of rehearsal.
The previous September 1999 Mufti shows were Noel Coward's The Girl Who Came to Supper and Harold Rome's Destry Rides Again. Another Mufti series begins in January 2000 with the Edmund Kean musical bio, Kean, by Robert Wright and George Forrest. Two other shows will be announced.
A cast recording of the 1998-99 Mufti series concert of the satiric 1920s-set musical, Billion Dollar Baby, is expected to be released later this year. Kristin Chenoweth starred. The score is by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Morton Gould.
The York Theatre Company is at the Theatre at Saint Peter's, Citicorp Center, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street, in Manhattan. Call (212) 935-5824 for information.
-- By Kenneth Jones