At Theatre West in Hollywood, Susan Morganstern directs a cast that includes Barbara Minkus (Picon Pie) as Jennie Grossinger, Barry Pearl, Larry Gelman as Papa Grossinger, Bruce Katzman as Harry Grossinger, Jeff Wiesen as Paul Grossinger, Eydie Alyson as Elaine Grossinger.
This version of the musical by Stephen Cole (librettist and co-lyricist), the late Ronny Graham (co-lyricist) and composer Claibe Richardson is much different than an earlier Broadway-sized version produced by Casa Manana, in 1997, starring Gavin McLeod. For one thing, the cast is smaller. Cole and Richardson worked in recent years to make the show leaner and more theatrical.
The show includes the last song that Richardson and Cole wrote together before the composer died in early 2003. Ironically titled "Dead on Her Feet," it's a comedy song about a woman who dies during the conga contest at Grossinger's.
Saturday Night at Grossinger's, "is a musical comedy about Jennie Grossinger and the rise of her Catskill resort from a small boarding house to the greatest resort on the East Coast," lyricist-librettist Cole told Playbill.com. "Grossinger's was the crown jewel of the Catskills from the '20s to the late '80s, luring top talent to the upstate New York mountains. Jennie, an uneducated immigrant became known as the hostess of the East." This new version had a non-Equity staging in summer 2003 at Broadhollow Theatre on Long Island; the Theatre West staging represents its professional debut.
"This definitely represents a big revision even since 2003," Cole said, adding that he's been working with the late Richardson's melodies to further enhance the storytelling. Cole is hoping for a Florida tour of the show after the Los Angeles run. There's a retirement-age population in Florida that will remember the Catskills resort from its heyday, he said.
The six-character musical comedy takes place in the early '60s when the hotel was at its height. Cole explained: "It's a snowy winter Saturday night and the stars who are booked: Judy Garland, Red Buttons and Alan King are stuck in a snowdrift, and Jennie and her family are forced to entertain the guests until the stars can arrive. Jennie decides to put on a show about how she made Grossinger's the great resort it was. As the improvised musical progresses, Jennie learns some hard truths about herself."
The piece was originally conceived by Rita Lakin and Doris Silverton, who brought the idea to Graham and Richardson. Cole was later brought on after earlier attempts at a libretto didn't gel.
Choreography is by Devra Korwin (of original Broadway runs of Damn Yankees and West Side Story). Musical director is Paul Chipello.
Cole's works for the stage include the book and lyrics for the musicals After the Fair, The Night of the Hunter, Casper and Dodsworth. Richardson scored The Grass Harp, Lola and Night of the Hunter. Actor-writer Graham wrote lyrics for Bravo Giovanni, New Faces of 1952, and penned the screenplays to "Spaceballs" and "To Be or Not to Be."
"[The show] is loosely based on the rise of the Catskill resort as seen through the eyes of Jennie Grossinger, the pioneer woman who made it all happen," librettist-lyricist Cole told Playbill.com. "As the opening lyric says, 'Here where facts are mixed with fictions, come embrace the contradictions...' We take major liberties with Jennie's life but the show is sanctioned and endorsed by Jennie's only living child, Elaine Grossinger Etess."
For more information, call (323) 851-7977 or visit www.theatrewest.org.