Butz to Star in "New" Twain Comedy, Is He Dead?, Opening on Broadway Nov. 29 | Playbill

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News Butz to Star in "New" Twain Comedy, Is He Dead?, Opening on Broadway Nov. 29 The rumors of Mark Twain's death are true, but a century-old play he wrote, Is He Dead?, will be alive and well at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre starting Nov. 8 toward a Nov. 29 opening.
Norbert Leo Butz
Norbert Leo Butz

Two-time Tony Award winner Michael Blakemore (Copenhagen, Kiss Me, Kate) will direct Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) in the 1898 comedy about the art world, adapted by David Ives (All in the Timing, Polish Joke). Additional casting will be announced.

The work is billed as "a new comedy by master American novelist and satirist Mark Twain," known for his influential novel "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Written 110 years ago, Is He Dead? remained unpublished until it was rediscovered in 2002 by noted Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin.

According to the producers, here's the play in a nutshell: "Inspired by the posthumous bidding war that broke out between the United States and France over Jean-Francois Millet's painting 'The Angelus,' Is He Dead? is a fast-paced comedy about a group of poor artists who stage the death of their mentor to drive up the price of his paintings. In order for the scheme to succeed, the artists hatch various hilarious plots involving cross-dressing, a full-scale fake funeral, lovers' deceptions, and much more."

Norbert Leo Butz, 2005 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, will star as Jean-Francois Millet, "the struggling painter whose work skyrockets in value when he is believed to be dead." Is He Dead? will be produced on Broadway by Bob Boyett, Roger Berlind and Daryl Roth.

The design team includes scenic design by Tony Award nominee Peter J. Davison, costume design by two-time Tony Award winner Martin Pakledinaz and lighting design by Tony Award winner Peter Kaczorowski.

Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910). He published more than 30 books, hundreds of short stories and essays, and gave lecture tours around the world. Often regarded as "the father of American literature" for his keen wit and incisive satire, Twain's works include "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "Life on the Mississippi," "The Prince and the Pauper," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Adaptor Ives was born in Chicago and educated at Yale School of Drama. A former Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in playwriting, he is probably best known for his evening of one-act comedies called All in the Timing. His short plays are collected in two anthologies, "All in the Timing" (Vintage) and "Time Flies" (Grove). His full-length theatre works are available in "Polish Joke and Other Plays" (Grove). He is also the author of two young-adult novels, "Monsieur Eek" and "Scrib." Most recently, he translated Georges Feydeau's classic French farce A Flea in Her Ear and Yasmina Reza's A Spanish Play. He has adapted the books of 18 classic musicals for presentation in the City Center Encores! series.

Butz received the 2005 Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics and Drama League Awards for his performance as Freddy Benson in the Broadway musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He co-starred in Wicked on Broadway, where he created the role of Fiyero. Other Broadway credits include Thou Shalt Not (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics nominations, Best Featured Actor in a Musical) and Rent (Broadway debut). Off-Broadway credits include Buicks, The Last Five Years (Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel nominations, Outstanding Actor in a Musical; Drama League Award, Outstanding Actor in a Musical), Juno and the Paycock (Roundabout), and Saved (Theatre for a New Audience). He toured as the Emcee in the first national tour of Cabaret earning him Helen Hayes, Jefferson, Dora and Ovation Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.


Humorist Twain once remarked that reports of his death were "greatly exaggerated."

Ticket information will be announced shortly. Blakemore is currently represented on Broadway by Deuce.

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