Leenane To Have Regional Premiere at Houston's Alley, Jan `99

News   Leenane To Have Regional Premiere at Houston's Alley, Jan `99
The Beauty Queen of Leenane may be licking its wounds after losing the Best Play Tony, June 7, to Art, but the show has no cause to grumble. Martin McDonagh's drama won four other Tonys that night (for actors Marie Mullen, Anna Manahan and Tom Murphy and director Garry Hynes) and has just announced that its regional premiere will happen at Houston's Alley Theatre, Jan. 8-Feb. 6, 1999.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane may be licking its wounds after losing the Best Play Tony, June 7, to Art, but the show has no cause to grumble. Martin McDonagh's drama won four other Tonys that night (for actors Marie Mullen, Anna Manahan and Tom Murphy and director Garry Hynes) and has just announced that its regional premiere will happen at Houston's Alley Theatre, Jan. 8-Feb. 6, 1999.

The Drama Desk, Drama League, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle award-winner for Best Play officially opens Jan. 13, 1999 at the Alley, coming in the middle of the theatre's 52nd season.

Speaking of the Tonys, A View From The Bridge won a Best Play Revival nod, and that show, too, will be on the Alley roster, Feb. 19-Mar. 20, 1999 (opening Feb. 24, 1999). Stephen Rayne of England's Royal National Theatre will direct this tale of Eddie Carbone (James Black) getting a little too jealous of his niece's immigrant boyfriend. Other works by playwright Arthur Miller include The Crucible and Mr. Peters' Connections.


Opening the season (artistic director Gregory Boyd's tenth) will be Boyd, Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy's oratorio, The Civil War: An American Musical. Wildhorn currently has two musicals on Broadway: The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll & Hyde. The Civil War will draw its material from original civil war documents, Walt Whitman poetry and other correspondence of the time.

The Civil War rages at Alley Sept. 8-Oct. 11, with Broadway eyed for 1999-00. The show, to be co-directed by Boyd and Nick Corley, with musical staging by George Faison, is expected to tour a year before coming to Broadway.

According to Gary Gunas (of PACE Theatricals), a "star-studded" concept CD is expected for late summer, just in time for the show's world premiere, Sept. 16. A television special, produced by John Cossette and Kathleen Raitt, is also in the works for after the opening, with former Tony Award broadcast director Walter Miller directing.

According to Martha Ashton of Wildhorn Productions, there will be two CDs of Civil War. One will be a full-score double disk; the other will concentrate on "radio friendly mixes." Scheduled to sing are Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Deana Carter, Hootie & The Blowfish, Tracy Lawrence, Linda Eder (Jekyll & Hyde), Betty Buckley, Dr. John, Patti LaBelle, Bebe Winans & Sounds Of Blackness, Bryan White, Charlie Daniels and The Broadway All-Star Chorus." Ashton says a half-dozen major "pop stars" are also expected to sign on to the project "in the weeks to follow."

Reached Oct. 22, 1997 Wildhorn said the The Civil War CD was turning into a major drawing card for pop singers. Wildhorn calls it, "the largest American theatre album ever made: 28-30 major acts. Such a sweep of wonderful artists, I'm in heaven!" said Wildhorn. "[Civil War] combines what I love the most: theatre and the best pop singers in the world today making a record. It brings the record-making and theatre worlds together. This is an enormous commitment from Atlantic Records to a theatre piece. Not just RCA Victor or Sony Classics -- this is Atlantic Records, home of Led Zep."

Wildhorn expects fall 1999 to bring Civil War to New York, "either to a Broadway house or the Paramount. And we'll go from there. This thing will have a very different kind of life from a Broadway show. It's not an oratorio, nor a play with music, nor a concert -- but it has elements of all those things. It's a huge emotional tapestry, the people of the times and the loss that defined those times. It consists of letters and diary entries and speeches -- that's the thread of the piece. Even Jack Murphy's song lyrics are based on poetry and speeches. The piece goes from Secession to the dawn of Gettysburg. (There was too much stuff to go to the entire inaugural.) And if it all works, maybe a year from now, we'll do the next part." Wildhorn said he has "a lot of ideas" about casting but won't be making any decisions until after Christmastime.


Speaking of Christmas, Alley associate artist Michael Wilson will stage the Alley's annual Dickens show, giving the piece "a fresh take." Zack Brown will design new costumes, with Tony Straiges contributing a new set. A Christmas Carol runs Nov. 23-Dec. 27, opening Nov. 27.

After War subsides, Paula Vogel's Pulitzer-winning How I Learned To Drive parks in the Alley, Oct. 2-25, opening Oct. 7. Mark Ramont directs this look at a young woman's increasingly dysfunctional relationship with her charming but disturbed Uncle Peck. The show was supposed to go up in May of this season but was postponed so the Alley could stage Not About Nightingales (details below).

Two Edward Albee classics will take the Neuhaus Arena Stage, Feb. 5-28 (opening Feb. 10): The Zoo Story and The American Dream. Both pieces were written 40 years ago by the playwright who went on to pen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Death of Bessie Smith, A Delicate Balance and Three Tall Women.

Another, as-yet-unnamed play will close the Neuhaus season.


Spring at the Alley will bring the award-winning Off-Broadway hit, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, with Jeffrey Bean playing the title character of Moises Kaufman's biographical drama (Apr. 2-May 1, 1999, opening Apr. 7, 1999).

Closing the mainstage season, May 14-June 13, 1999 (opening May 19, 1999) will be the intellectual G.B. Shaw comedy, Misalliance, recently revived at the Roundabout in New York. David Wheeler directs this farce of crashing planes and unleashed sexuality.


Winner of the 1996 Tony for outstanding regional theatre (as recommended by the American Theatre Critics Association), the Alley Theatre has produced such works as 1990's Jekyll & Hyde (which later toured and now runs on Broadway), and Robert Wilson's Hamlet, A Monologue.


As for the current season, the Alley Theatre is presenting the American debut of Not About Nightingales, an early rarity by Tennessee Williams. Previews began June 5. The international production opened June 10 for a limited run ending July 3.

A collaboration between the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and Corin and Vanessa Redgrave's Moving Theatre, in association with Houston's Tony Award-winning regional company, Not About Nightingales, a prison drama, had its world premiere Mar. 5 at the Royal National's Cottelsoe Theatre in London, under the direction of Royal National artistic director Trevor Nunn, and featuring an international cast of 18 led by Corin Redgrave as the tyrannical warden and Alley actor James Black as the prison leader (with two other Alley members in supporting roles). Still playing there, it has received critical and general acclaim and quickly sold out its limited run.

Not About Nightingales was written in 1938 when Williams, who then went by his given first name Tom, was a playwriting student in his late twenties at University of Iowa. It is based on actual events in a Philadelphia jail involving rebellious inmates, a hunger strike, and sadistic punishment, and it argues against inhumane conditions. It was discovered by Vanessa Redgrave at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin; the Ransom Center houses extensive Williams archives, including manuscripts from approximately 1,000 works. Redgrave came across it in 1996 while in Houston during the first collaboration between the Alley and Moving Theatres' repertory productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.

Because the companies' first partnership celebrated a great English playwright, it was deemed appropriate that the next should highlight an American master. Not About Nightingales marks the Alley's initial relationship with the Royal National.

Although the Alley had intended all along to be the presenter of its American debut, there were considerable obstacles the troupe had to overcome to do so. One was securing an additional $250,000 outside its budget for the mounting. Grants from prominent Houston philanthropic organizations and major Houston industries have led the way. A second was obtaining approval from American Actors' Equity Association. This has been achieved pursuant to an exchange program between American Equity and British Equity. A third consideration concerned venues: the forbidding two-tiered set of somber grays and mechanistic steel is configured in such a way that it won't fit on the Alley's main stage or its smaller space. An alternative venue, the new Aerial Theatre at Bayou Place, across the street from the Alley, has been secured.

Not About Nightingales replaced Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, which had been scheduled for May but has been moved to next season, as listed above.

Not About Nightingales timd at the Aerial Theatre at Bayou Place under the auspices of the Alley Theatre. For tickets, ($35-$37) otherwise, call (713) 228-8421

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