Christopher Walken and Blair Brown will be the Irish husband and wife, Gabriel and Gretta Conroy, in the new Richard Nelson-Shaun Davey musical adaptation, James Joyce's The Dead
Joining Walken ("The Deer Hunter" and "Pennies from Heaven," in which he danced and sang) and Brown (Roundabout's Cabaret) for the Playwrights Horizons production Oct. 1-Nov. 14 are former Side Show Tony Award nominees Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley as Molly Ivors and Mary Jane, respectively, Tony Award-winner Daisy Eagan (grown up now, since her win in The Secret Garden) as Rita and Young Julia, Sally Ann Howes ("Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") as Aunt Julia, Marni Nixon (famous as the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film "My Fair Lady") as Aunt Kate.
The casting was announced Aug. 19. Official opening night is Oct. 28.
The 13-performer company also includes Brian Davies (the original Hero of A Funny Thing Happened...) as Mr. Browne, Stephen Spinella (Angels in America) as Freddy Malins, Paddy Croft (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and 1999's Night Must Fall) as Mrs. Malins, Dashiell Eaves (the recent revivals of 1776 and The Sound Music) as Michael, performance artist John Kelly as tenor Bartell D'Arcy and Brooke Sunny Moriber (Parade) as Lily.
Jack Hofsiss (The Elephant Man) will direct the tale of a wife who conjures the past to reveal an aching unhappiness in her marriage. The story, drawn from Joyce's collection, "Dubliners," is set at the Christmas party of Gabriel's music-loving aunts. A song stirs old memories and passions in Gretta. *
Gregory Mosher and Arielle Tepper had hoped to produce a musicalization of James Joyce's story, "The Dead," on Broadway last season, but the planning came too late in the season to raise the necessary funding. The Playwrights Horizons staging is produced "by special arrangement" with Mosher and Tepper.
Designing the Off-Broadway staging are David Jenkins (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting) and Scott Lehrer (sound). Orchestrations are by Irish composer Davey, who will share lyric credits with Nelson.
Playwright Nelson has written Two Shakespearean Actors, Some Americans Abroad, New England, Goodnight Children Everywhere and the libretto of Chess,, among other plays.
The song sung at the holiday party revives Gretta buried memories of a boy she loved as a teenager and who died young. As Gabriel listens to Gretta relate the tale of her early love, he realizes a man he never knew has had a grip on his wife's imagination for years. Gabriel grapples with the revelation that the dead -- even the unknown dead -- never release their hold on the living.
The story was made into a film in 1987, starring Angelica Huston and the recently deceased Donal McCann, under the direction of John Huston (the film was Huston's last).
As in the film, the theatre piece will feature singing and dancing, though Mosher is reluctant to call The Dead a musical. He told Playbill On Line earlier in 1999 that he refers to the piece as a "play with music." A spokesperson for the show said "musical play" is accurate, too: Characters don't just sing presentational Irish tunes, there are character-specific songs.
Among Davey's songs is a number for Gretta, telling the story of her lost love. The final song of the evening maps the course of Joyce's story's famous last paragraph.