ALL-SINGING! ALL-DANCING! ALL-(KINDA)-NEW!
"It looks like a musical. It sounds like a musical. It dances like a musical. It's a musical. Relax!" That was Lincoln Center producer Bernard Gersten, defending the Tony Award his Contact had just won for Best Musical while simultaneously scolding the press for their cauldron-stirring. Composers, musicians, and singers had objected that this dazzling piece of dance theater would (and did) pirouette away with top honors without a single note of new music having been written for or performed in the show. Hardly the way for musicals to step into the new millennium; but, if there was fear of more Contacts on the horizon, it's unrealized. All you can see coming up is old-fashioned song-and-dance--and plenty of it.
In this regard, one need not have looked any farther than the gentleman standing beside Gersten on Tony night: John Weidman, the Contact book-writer, told the press that he was back to square one with Wise Guys, the Stephen Sondheim musical which aborted last season after a wobbly workshop. Now, they're rewriting it with the input and supervision of a new director, Hal Prince. "Will it be a musical?" Gersten cracked from the sidelines.
By the way, Sondheim and Weidman could conceivably find themselves in competition with themselves for the next Best Musical Tony. Earlier this month, the Roundabout did a very successful reading of their 1991 Off-Broadway musical Assassins under the direction of Joe Mantello, and that show's belated Broadway debut could occur as early as 2001--just about the time director Matthew Warchus directs the Roundabout revival of Sondheim's Follies). Participants in the Assassins reading: Stephen Spinella, Brian d'Arcy James, Mario Cantone, Becky Ann Baker, Neil Patrick Harris, Lisa Loeb, Michael Hall, Ray Wills, Matt McGrath, and Paul Kandel.
SCOTT ON THE SPOT
Last Monday at the Roundabout (again!), a five-member cast led by Tony Vincent (Jesus Christ Superstar's Judas) leafed through the Burt Bacharach-Hal David songbook for a musical revue that will probably be called The Look of Love. Scott Ellis directed, and the buzz is good. Hopefully, its fate will be happier than that of What the World Needs Now, which attempted the same thing under Gillian (Cats) Lynne's direction but crashed and burned.
Ellis is also negotiating another new musical into prominence: Tom Sawyer, which will world-premiere in New Haven in March and (hopefully) will get to Broadway before next season's Tony cut-off date. Ken Ludwig, who wrote Crazy for You and Lend Me a Tenor, is tweaking the Twain book from which the musical came, and Don Schlitz is supplying songs.
FANNY AND MILLIE
It was in New Haven eight years ago, at the Long Wharf, that Lynne Meadow caught a Restoration sex-romp musicalized by Lucy Simon and Susan Birkenhead from Erica (Fear of Flying) Jong's faux 18th-century novel Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout Jones. A new book for the musical has been written by Jeffrey Hatcher and, this Thursday and Friday (June 22 and 23), Meadow will direct the results of a two-week workshop of the show, which is more simply titled Fanny Hackabout Jones. Laura Benanti of Swing! has the title role (a kind of kissing cousin to Tom Jones) and Marc Kudisch will be her love interest, Lancelot. Tonya Pinkins is her maid, Chuck Wagner is the villain of the piece, Mary Testa is a lady of the evening, and Edward Hibbert is a haughty actor. Other worthies: Patrick Quinn, Nancy Ringham, Adam Lefevre, Beth Thompson, and Nicholas Wyman. "I kinda believed it would never come together," Birkenhead says. "But it did!"
On August 22, Kudisch reports to the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego to become the boyfriend of another pretty period-piece heroine, the title character in Thoroughly Modern Millie--and Pinkins is a possibility to play Carol Channing's "Jazz Baby" role of Muzzy in this adaptation of the 1967 movie. Kristin Chenoweth and Beatrice Arthur co-starred in a staged reading of the show in New York last October, but neither will be available for the San Diego lift-off of the show: Chenoweth is busy with her new television series, Arthur with her one-woman stage show. Millie will now be a Dilly named Erin. The Bea Arthur/Bea Lillie villainess role has yet to be cast, but director Michael Mayer says that a certain icon who attended The Wild Party on Broadway with Kudisch and Pinkins "is definitely in the mix." Millie's best friend, Miss Dorothy, will Sarah Uriarte Berry, who just finished playing Maria in West Side Story at St. Louis MUNY.
CHRISTMAS IN JULY
Speaking of St. Louis MUNY: Broadway producers who are wondering where the next stage version of a movie musical is coming from might want to visit that venue some time between July 17 and 23. The starting point for the Meet Me in St. Louis that eventually made it to Broadway is introducing a stage adaptation of Irving Berlin's 1954 cinematic songfest White Christmas by Paul Blake, a producer there. Lara Teeter and Lee Roy Reams have the Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye roles, while a couple of Karens--Mason and Morrow--are the "Sisters" originally played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. The role of the old general who owns their "Holiday Inn" will be handled by no less than Howard Keel (who, presumably, will be thrown a Berlin standard or two).
Keel's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers co-star, Jane Powell recently proved in the York Theatre's 70, Girls, 70 that M-G-M star power doesn't diminish with the passing decades. Now, Powell has accepted a non-musical role in a new play by Mass Appeal's Bill C. Ryan, Avow, opening later this month at the Century Center. Alan Campbell (Sunset Boulevard) and Christopher Sieber (Triumph of Love) will likewise work without sheet music in the show. Scott Ferrara and Sarah Knowlton co-star under Jack Hofsiss' direction.
GRIST FOR THE MILL
The aforementioned Mr. Reams will be wearing his director's cap when he opens the 2000-2001 Paper Mill Playhouse season with Cole Porter's Anything Goes. Will Chita be Reno? Afraid not: her London gig has queered the deal. Lois & Clark's Terri Hatcher had to pass up the assignment as well. "I think it's going to be Debbie Gravitte," says Reams, who may stick around Paper Mill to play the Tony Roberts role in Victor/Victoria.
The Playhouse's executive producer, Angelo Del Rossi, plans to round out the season with Art, Funny Girl, Carousel, and a wild card which won't be Grand Hotel or The Little Foxes. The latter almost came to pass with Dixie Carter, hubby Hal Holbrook, and Elizabeth Franz in the cast, but Dixie's TV series got picked up and the deal died. "I'll try again next year," says Del Rossi. "That'll be my fourth year of waiting for this."
Paper Mill's current production, Pippin (with Jack Noseworthy and Jim Newman), is so radically revised a revival it almost qualifies as a new show--or so says Ed Dixon, who's reprising his role of Charlemagne from the last Pippin tour. He says there's talk of recording the new version, and even touring it. Dixon, however, will join Bronson Pinchot and Chuck Cooper in Aucassine and Nicolette at the Westport Playhouse. "I did five workshops of it, and they're really trying to bring it in," he says. The French fable has been set to song by David Friedman, and the musical will be directed by Ethan McSweeney.