I'm just a BROADWAY dweebie
Springtime for B'way
By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ
Tuesday, February 21st, 2006
When "Hairspray" got rave reviews in Seattle on its way to Broadway in 2002, a funny thought crossed producer Margo Lion's mind. "All I had to concentrate on," she says, "was my dress for opening night."
That was then. With her new musical, "The Wedding Singer," her thoughts about what to wear on opening night have been overshadowed. Now she's probably more concerned that New York reviewers will throw tomatoes, not rice, at her "Wedding."
Out of town, the show got only a so-so critical reception. But by the time it opens here in April, Lion wants to have worked out all the "Wedding" jitters.
Of course, the same high-stakes challenge faces every theatrical production, and a quintet of other new musicals are set to arrive on Broadway this spring. But each lands with a mix of baggage, buzz and backstory. On the line are millions of dollars, dozens of jobs and reputations.
Only a few will make it.
To that end, "The Wedding Singer" is already tweaking its story and score. The $11 million production — a jilted-boy-meets-girl story set in the '80s and based on the 1998 Adam Sandler movie — is in the hands of some Broadway novices, but Lion vows that her faith is firm in the creative team and cast, including her leading man, Stephen Lynch, an edgy, musical stand-up comic shooting for a new stage in his career.
"We're right on target," says Lion, looking ahead to the April 27 opening. That said, director John Rando could use a bull's-eye. He won a Tony Award directing "Urinetown," but followed up with the mega-dud "Dance of the Vampires."
"This show is important for John," says Lion. "It's important for everybody."
Same holds true for Broadway's other five original spring musicals.
JOHNNY ON THE SPOT
With the Oscar-nominated Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line" in multi-plexes, is "Ring of Fire," a stage revue about the Man in Black, overkill?
"No," says its creator and director, Richard Maltby Jr. "But do I wish the movie came out [a year earlier]? Yes. Luckily, the first decision I made about this show is that it wasn't going to be a Johnny Cash bio. It's about the world he created in his music."
As such, the $5.5 million "Ring of Fire," in previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, features a six-member ensemble cast that sings and interacts with onstage musicians. The show uses 38 songs from the Cash catalogue, including "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and "Hurt" and resembles "Ain't Misbehavin,'" the Tony-winning revue of Fats Waller songs that Maltby created in 1978.
"I invented the jukebox musical," says Maltby. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND YOU FEEL PROUD OF THAT, DO YOU?
In 28 years, many songbook shows have come and gone - most of them flops. Maltby is hoping to make magic again, but whether his baby burns bright or goes down in flames, he says, "I'm the creator of the show. There's nobody to blame but me."
Veteran hoofer Maurice Hines ("Eubie!") is the spark behind "Hot Feet," a dance-driven retelling of "The Red Shoes" fable and the Faustian legend set to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire and new songs by E,W&F founder Maurice White. MTV hip-hop novelist Heru Ptah wrote the story about a wanna-be dancer who bargains with the wrong guy and pays dearly for success.
Hines directs and choreographs the show, which is estimated to have cost between $8 million and $10 million and includes E,W&F hits like "Shining Star" and "Boogie Wonderland," as well as snazzy, electrified red sneakers for the leading lady. "This show called out for special shoes," says costumer Paul Tazewell. EDITOR'S NOTE: I KNOW PEOPLE...JANEL...WHO THINK EVERYTHING CALLS FOR SPECIAL SHOES.
"Hot Feet" joined the spring lineup late last year, and is something of a mystery. Its pre-Broadway tryout begins next month in Washington, D.C.
Time will tell if E,W&F + MTV = R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
A JUNGLE IN THERE
The X-Games are coming to Broadway. Sort of.
Disney's latest theatrical venture marries its successful Broadway formula - toon turned tuner - to extreme sports with the adaptation of "Tarzan"
The musical has a far tonier upbringing than you'd think for a story about a guy raised by apes, what with music by Phil Collins and aerial maneuvers by Pichón Baldinu, who dazzled
theatergoers with the high-flying "De La Guarda."
The show takes place entirely in a jungle setting, and not a concrete one.
"It's very expressionistic," says Thomas Schumacher, head of Disney Theatrical Productions. "The whole visual is ropes and vines hanging everywhere. The language of the movie is surfing or skateboarding. The language of the stage show is rock climbing. Everyone is in a harness." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND HERE I WAS WORRIED THAT THEATER WAS DEAD. (SNORT).
Disney knows how to harness hits - the cast includes former "American Idol" contestant Josh Strickland and "All Shook Up" alum Jenn Gambatese, who co-stars as the apeman's gal pal Jane, and at the helm of the reportedly $15 million show is Bob Crowley, a Tony-winning set and costume designer making his debut as a Broadway director.
But no matter how high "Tarzan" swings, the House of Mouse has "Mary Poppins" and "The Little Mermaid" waiting in the wings.
GETTING A TRANSFUSION
What do you do when you've got Anne Rice, Elton John and Bernie Taupin on board at your new musical and it still gets rotten out-of-town reviews? EDITOR'S NOTE: ACCEPT THAT THERE ARE STILL AUDIENCES WITH TASTE?
That's the colossal query facing Gregg Maday, head of Warner Bros. theatricals, producers of the $12 million "Lestat."
"We started out as this huge gorilla with big marquee names and brand recognition," says Maday. "Then we got creamed by critics in San Francisco. We became the underdog." EDITOR'S NOTE: THE UNDERDOG OR THE STUFF THAT COMES OUT OF THE DOG?
Based on Rice's "The Vampire Chronicles," the musical covers hundreds of years while telling the story of a bloodsucker's search for happiness. Hugh Panaro, who recently played the masked menace in "The Phantom of the Opera," vamps in the title role.
"Dance of the Vampires" and "Dracula," two recent batty musicals, were far from immortal, quickly biting the dust. No matter. "The game is still afoot here," says Maday, adding that "Lestat" director Rob Jess Roth and creative consultant Jonathan Butterell "have looked at every scene and torn things apart. There's been a big shift from what was seen in San Francisco."
When producers of the musical comedy "The Drowsy Chaperone" awoke to rousing reviews for their sleeper hit in Los Angeles, they scrambled to find a Broadway theater to transfer to.
"Momentum is key," says Casey Nicholaw, a choreographer who leaps into the director's seat with this $8 million musical. "We really wanted to get to Broadway this season. I hated the idea of losing anyone in the cast."
The plot (think "Purple Rose of Cairo") assumes sort of a show-within-a-show structure: As a modern-day musical lover plays a recording of his favorite show, set in 1928, the voices on the vinyl come alive on stage, evoking that era.
When the show springs to life on Broadway, the L.A. ensemble will be intact, including Tony winner Sutton Foster (did she save her Jazz Age costumes from "Thoroughly Modern Millie"?), whose part has grown since California. "She had a small love song, which has been expanded significantly," says Nicholaw. There's also a new number called "Love Is Always Lovely in the End."
"The message of the song?" muses Nicholaw. "It's that things always work out in a musical."
Where and when musicals bloom in spring
* "The Drowsy Chaperone" starts previews April 3 at the Marquis Theatre; opens May 1.
* "Hot Feet" starts previews April 15 at the Hilton Theatre; opens April 30.
* "Lestat" starts previews March 25 at the Palace Theatre; opens April 25.
* "Ring of Fire" is in previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre; opens March 12.
* "Tarzan" starts previews March 24 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre; opens May 10.
* "The Wedding Singer" starts previews March 30 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre; opens April 27.