‘Shlemiel’ Takes On ‘Sunset Blvd.’

Alexander H. Cohen, Max Cooper and Hildy Parks plan to bring the American Repertory Theater/American Music Theater Festival production of “Shlemiel the First” to the Neil Simon Theater this spring in time for Tony consideration. A folk musical adapted from the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer, it looks to be David taking on the Goliath of “Sunset Boulevard” in the new musicals competition. Previews for the $2 million production are slated to begin April 21, with opening night set for April 27.

“Sunset” isn’t Cohen’s only target. The opening night for “Shlemiel” is reserved with the League of American Theaters and Producers for “Indiscretions.” But Cohen long ago quit the Broadway trade group, and there’s no love lost between him and the Shubert Organization, which happens to be the lead producer of “Indiscretions.” He plans to go ahead with the date.

A number of other producers had expressed interest in transferring the small-scale musical. Cohen was picked, said American Rep managing director Robert J. Orchard, “because we felt most comfortable with him, with his belief in the piece, his appreciation of its integrity, and his plans for marketing it.

“One other reason was his proven experience and success at raising money,” Orchard added, “and my impression is that if he doesn’t have the entire $2 million already, which he may, he’s very close.”

Stamford warmup

As was true of “Comedy Tonight,” which was a fast flop on Broadway in December, “Shlemiel” will play prior to Broadway at the Stamford Center for the Arts’ Rich Forum April 4 to 16. Cohen is the Center’s executive producer.

“Shlemiel” was presented in New York last summer as part of Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun! Festival, and won enthusiastic notices. The show preemed in May at the American Rep, later ran at the Music Theater fest in Philadelphia and is touring other cities.

The musical was conceived and adapted by American Rep a.d. Robert Brustein from a play Singer based on his children’s tales about Shlemiel and the foolish “wise men” of Chelm. The music was composed, adapted from traditional Jewish klezmer music, and orchestrated by Hankus Netsky, with arrangements and additional music by Zalmen Mlotek and lyrics by Arnold Weinstein. David Gordon is the director and choreographer, and the cast includes Paul Sand, Marilyn Sokol and Charles Levin.

Cohen, Cooper and Parks also plan to bring Diane Shaffer’s new play “Sacrilege” – previously titled “The Gift of Grace” – to Broadway early next season, with Don Scardino directing Ellen Burstyn.

Cohen hopes all the activity will dispel rumblings that he wants to give up the reins in Stamford when his three-year contract expires in June. “It would take a powder keg to blast me out of here,” he said.

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