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Kathleen Marshall and Douglas Carter Beane Jump on The Band Wagon

Beane adapts the 1953 film for stage treatment, with Marshall directing and choreographing a cast led by Brian Stokes Mitchell and Laura Osnes.

Kathleen Marshall is the director and choreographer of Douglas Carter Beane's new stage version of the 1953 film The Band Wagon.
(© David Gordon)

Kathleen Marshall and Douglas Carter Beane share a similar fantasy. "Going out of town with a musical in 1952, a week in New Haven, a week in Boston, and then opening in New York," Marshall says, dreamy-eyed. "That would be the dream scenario for the two of us," Beane adds wistfully. "To be at the Taft Hotel, rewriting until three-o'clock in the morning, and eating club sandwiches," Marshall continues. "Chicken salad sandwiches," Beane corrects.

The affection that the Tony-winning director/choreographer and the Tony-nominated playwright share for the "let's-put-on-a-show" genre is what brought them together to collaborate on a stage version of the 1953 film The Band Wagon. Featuring a screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and a score by vastly underappreciated musical-theater geniuses Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, the picture is widely considered to be one of the top MGM movie-musicals, and significant for its introduction of the songs "That's Entertainment" and "Dancing in the Dark" to the popular culture.

Under Beane's book-writing guidance, a theatrical version of the work has been in development for a number of years. It initially premiered under the title Dancing in the Dark at the Old Globe in San Diego in 2008. After undergoing significant revisions, and with the addition of Marshall at the show's helm, the show finally making its New York debut as a New York City Center Encores! special presentation, November 6-16.

The Band Wagon book writer Douglas Carter Beane (third-from-left) with cast members (from left) Michael Berresse, Tony Sheldon, Tracey Ullman, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Laura Osnes, Michael McKean, and Don Stephenson.
(© Joan Marcus)

If you've watched the film, which tells the story of a washed-up musical-theater performer attempting to rejuvenate his career by starring in a new show that just ends up being a dark revision of Faust, you're likely to notice how, by the end, all that's left is song after song after song. "It had never been finished," Beane notes. "Comden and Green's contract was up and they went off and did Wonderful Town." "That's why the last third of the movie is a revue," Marshall adds. "So," Beane continues, "I said, 'wouldn't it be fun to go in and finish it for them?' It's my way of expressing my love to them. It's an odd way of expressing love, rewriting, but I wanted to capture their style."

In the leading role of washed-up musical-theater veteran Tony Hunter is Brian Stokes Mitchell, a Tony-winning Broadway mainstay whose career is anything but washed up. What did it take to woo the baritone into his first New York stage role in four years? "I was really, really impressed with Doug's script," he says. "He's taken the film and very cleverly created new plots and new twists, and kind of brought the story together in a way that the movie didn't."

Beane also added songs from the Schwartz and Dietz canon. "There are all these wonderful songs that people know from the movie," Marshall says, "like 'By My Self,' 'Dancing in the Dark,' and 'That's Entertainment,' but there are all these other gems that Doug discovered." "What I get knocked out about," Beane continues, "is Dietz's lyrics. They're just superb, topping Noël Coward…but they're not taught in musical-theater schools. They're great melodies and people don't know them." Marshall accounts for this factoid with a mention of the style at the time. "Mostly what they wrote were revues," she says. "Their musicals are not done anymore."

Which is what makes it perfect for the Encores! treatment. "I've seen nearly every Encores! show," Beane mentions proudly. "I love the second acts so much, because you just see desperation and inspiration in equal measure. This seemed like the perfect thing for Encores! to go out of its comfort sphere with. It's Comden and Green. It's about theater of the golden age…" "And a Schwartz and Dietz Golden Age score," Marshall interjects. "What Doug has created is a new classic musical."

Laura Osnes plays Gaby to Brian Stokes Mitchel as Tony in the upcoming New York City Center Encores! special presentation of The Band Wagon, adapted for the stage by Douglas Carter Beane and directed by Kathleen Marshall.
(© Joan Marcus)