"We are deeply grieved by Phil's passing," said Chase Mishkin and Leonard Soloway, producers of the new Urban Cowboy musical, in commenting on the death of the show's director, Phil Oesterman. Urban Cowboy is scheduled to premiere in November at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami; Oesterman died on Tuesday of heart failure at the age of 64.
Oesterman, who also co-authored the Cowboy book (with Aaron Latham), had a long association with Tommy Tune; he was credited with bringing Tune to New York in the early '60s after having worked with him on a number of projects in Texas. Oesterman's directorial résumé included a number of joint ventures with Tune, notably The Will Rogers Follies and Tommy Tune Tonight! as well as the Yoko Ono musical New York Rock.
A new director for Urban Cowboy has not yet been named, and there's no word yet on how plans for an eventual Broadway run will be affected by Oesterman's death. But Mishkin and Soloway noted that the musical "has been a passion of Phil's for many years, and we are totally committed to moving forward as he would have wished."
"Phil was my friend," said Tom Zemon, who will be featured as Wes Hightower in the Coconut Grove production after having played the same role in workshops of the show in Gloucester, Massachusetts and in New York at the Westbeth Theater Center. (The principal cast members of the latter workshop also included Raúl Esparza, Sandy Duncan, and B.J. Crosby.) "I think the tragedy of this is that Phil isn't going to get to see the project through," Zemon told TheaterMania. "That makes me sad, because it was so important to him. He was so excited when we did the workshop in New York; he thought it was going to be his time, finally.
"I had one of my best experiences ever with Phil," Zemon continued. "I gave him a card when we opened in Gloucester; I wrote that, as an actor, I felt really safe and free with him. Phil was tough on the outside but always had a twinkle in his eye and an underlying warmth. In a sense, he was a real life-cowboy: He had grit and determination. He was a great guy and a terrific director."