Producer Alan Schuster is hoping his production of Ken Hill’s The Invisible Man, a hit at the nonprofit Cleveland Play House in December 1998, will appear on Broadway in the coming months.
The problem, Schuster told Playbill On-Line Feb. 8, is finding an available Broadway house. He’s talking to the Shuberts and Nederlanders and said he wouldn’t rule out summer Broadway dates for the magic-filled music-hall retelling of the H.G. Wells sci-fi yarn.
Jim Dale, who played the narrator in the Schuster-boosted Cleveland staging, is still attached to the project, said Schuster, whose ventures include the Union Square Theatre Off-Broadway the Royal George Theatre in Chicago.
A press release from the Cleveland Play House suggesting the play might go to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre in summer 1999 was premature, Schuster said.
As another option, Schuster is eyeing an out-of-town booking -- either commercial or hosted at a nonprofit -- before moving to its Broadway booking. The special effects-filled production was a huge hit for the Play House in Cleveland. Schuster said another out-of-town date could allow for “some adjustments” away from the New York theatre community.
He said he’s already received one offer from a nonprofit regional theatre to host the Frank Dunlop-directed show.
Tickets virtually disappeared for the final three performances of The Invisible Man at the Cleveland Play House Jan. 8-9.
Ken Hill's illusion-filled adaptation of the H.G. Wells science fiction yarn, starring Jim Dale, was 99 percent sold out for its final weekend, following a popular run that ranks as one of the three most-attended holiday hits at the nonprofit Play House. The final show, Feb. 9 at 8 PM, was completely sold out, according to a box office spokesperson.
"The audiences loved it," said Peter Cambariere, Play House director of marketing and public relations. He said about 10,000 tickets were sold to the production, which was so illusion-packed and expensive, it was a co venture with commercial producer Alan Schuster. The staging played previews Dec. 1-3, 1998, and opened Dec. 4.
Producers from several organizations came to Cleveland during the run to eye The Invisible Man.
The Cleveland stand was the North American premiere for the show, which previously played in London in 1992. Frank Dunlop directed in Cleveland, where script revisions were made during the run.
Illusions are by Jim Steinmeyer, a magic designer who has worked with David Copperfield, Doug Henning, Penn and Teller and on illusions for Broadway's Beauty and the Beast
In Hill's adaptation, Dale (of Broadway's Barnum) played Thomas Marvel, a tramp enlisted as an accomplice to the Invisible Man. The theatrical, conceptual setting of the production, directed by London's Dunlop, is a 1904 English music hall (analogous to American vaudeville). A troupe has hired Marvel to recount the tale of a chemist poisoned by his own experiments (and rendered invisible). The science fiction music-hall melodrama is played under the title, "The Terrible Tale of the Awful Events That Cropped Up in the Village of Iping."
Narrator Marvel also plays himself in the main story. In true music hall style, Dale's Marvel appears between scenes to perform nimble specialty material, which was Tony Award-winner Dale's strong suit in Broadway's Me and My Girl and Barnum.
"It's right up his alley," Cleveland Play House artistic director Peter Hackett told Playbill On-Line Nov. 30.
A "music hall" company -- John Hines, Vicki Stuart, Charles Antalosky, Judith Hawking, Michael Hayward-Jones, Tina Jones, Steve Ramshur, Ian Stuart, John Leonard Thompson -- assumes roles in the yarn. J. Paul Boehmer plays the tormented, maddened Griffin, a.k.a the Invisible Man.
Hackett said he was approached by the New York producer Alan Schuster, who owns American rights to the script, and a co-production between the nonprofit Play House and the commercial Schuster developed.
"He wanted to try it out of town," Hackett said, adding that sales are strong, partly because it's in the "holiday" slot.
Previously, the Play House earned a solid reputation launching a national tour of Having Our Say.
What attracted Hackett, beyond the freewheelingly theatrical script (which has music, magic, jokes and horror), was the linking of Dale, illusionist Steinmeyer and director Dunlop. Hackett had known the director's work for years, from Broadway's Sherlock Holmes and Scapino to Dunlop's artistic directorship of the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. "What always excites me about a project is not just the script, but always the people who are going to be involved," said Hackett.
Dale and Dunlop had previously worked together in productions of The Burglar, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Winter's Tale and Scapino. Both were nominated for Tony Awards in 1975 for Scapino.
Hackett said without Schuster's financial co-producership, the Play House would not be able to tackle such a technically demanding, special-effects driven show. The production is staged at the 612-seat Bolton Theatre, one of four spaces in the Play House complex.
In December 1998, Hackett said Schuster was considering a national tour of the show or may be looking for a Broadway house. It was previously announced as a possibility for Off-Broadway's Union Square Theatre in February 1999.
Hill's Invisible Man played London in 1992. Hill might be best known for his tongue-in-cheek London version of The Phantom of the Opera, which used opera excerpts to tell the Gaston Leroux story. That staging inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber to go off and write his own version.
Jumping on the phenomenal success which of the ALW Phantom, a touring version of the Ken Hill show played markets around the country in the early 1990s, confusing some theatregoers who didn't know which version they were getting.
Actor Boehmer (in the title role) made his Broadway debut in Sir Peter Hall's staging of An Ideal Husband and has appeared in regional theatres around the country.
-- By Kenneth Jones