Elvis citing: Songbook set for B’way

DiPietro tuning tuner

NEW YORK — Elvis Presley is really dead, but he may be coming to a Broadway theater in 2001.

Joe DiPietro is writing the book for a musical that will feature a number of songs made famous by the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

The idea for the Presley musical originated with composer Jimmy Roberts and DiPietro’s music publisher, Maxyne Berman Lang, president of Williamson Music.

A division of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, Williamson also reps the catalogs of Elvis Presley Music (BMI) and Gladys Music (ASCAP), named after the singer’s mother, which over the years have amassed most of the titles recorded by the legendary singer.

“Having lived with those songs for so many years, it seemed to me that they had a story, a non-Elvis Presley story to tell,” said Lang. Prior to her tenure at Williamson, she repped the Presley song book as VP at Chappell Music and later Warner Chappell Music.

Elvis Presley Music is co-owned by the Elvis Presley estate and the Julian and Jean Aberbach family, a long-revered music-publishing concern. Both entities recently approved DiPietro’s concept for the musical.

“It’s not going to be about Elvis,” the playwright said of the musical. For a prototype, he instead is looking to a current West End sensation. “The show will be closer in concept to ‘Mama Mia!,’ which uses the music of ABBA, but doesn’t mention ABBA at all. I want the songs to come from many different voices and situations that you don’t expect.”

Neither DiPietro nor Lang would reveal which Presley songs would be used.

Busy body

The playwright-lyricist is currently represented off-Broadway with his comedy “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which recently clocked in its 500th performance, and the long-running musical revue “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” for which he wrote the book and lyrics to Roberts’ music.

DiPietro’s new comedy, “The Kiss at City Hall,” opens Jan. 16 at the Pasadena Playhouse.

The prolific writer is also writing new books for a couple of legendary, if problematic, musicals. The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization recently commissioned DiPietro to rewrite the book for the 1947 musical “Allegro.” And in January, a new incarnation of the Gershwin musical “Oh, Kay!” will be performed in a reading, with book by DiPietro, who has retitled it “They All Laughed!” The Ira Gershwin estate made the commission.

Live entertainment

In addition to working with dead composers, DiPietro has written the books for two original musicals, both of which held their world premieres earlier this year.

“Men,” with music by Jimmy Roberts, based on the Doris Dorrie film “Manner,” was staged last summer at the B Street Theater in Sacramento. “O. Henry’s Lovers,” with music by Michael Valenti (“Oh, Brother!”) and adapted from three O. Henry short stories, received a production at New Jersey’s American Stage Co. in October.

Producer Jonathan Pollard is looking for other regional productions of the latter show before bringing it to New York, but said he was committed to seeing “Men,” as well as “The Kiss at City Hall,” staged on Off Broadway in summer or fall 2000.

Heartbreak hotels

“Our big problem is that ‘I Love You’ and ‘Over the River’ are already occupying two of the better Off Broadway houses,” he said of the John Houseman and Westside theaters, where the DiPietro works are currently in residence.

Pollard produces with Bernie Kuloff, Tony Converse and Dena Hammerstein, widow of the late James Hammerstein, who was a producer of “I Love You” and “Over the River” with the others.

DiPietro is repped by Scott Yoselow of the Gersh Agency.

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