Black vaudeville tuner could hit B'way in 2000

In a move believed to better its chances at permanent Tony eligibility, the Kit Kat Klub has inked a deal to bring in the new black vaudeville tuner, “Rollin’ on the T.O.B.A.” this March.

As the Kit Kat Klub seeks permanent eligibility, producer Ashton Springer and co-producer John Grimaldi say they’re drafting a letter to ask for a special dispensation for eligibility, to ensure the committee has options.

“As far as I am concerned, the venue meets the standards set by the Tony committee, and since the Roundabout (production of “Cabaret”) was eligible there, so it stands to reason that we will be, too,” Springer said.

The tuner features Sandra Reaves Phillips (“Raisin,” “Black and Blue,” “One Mo’ Time”), Rudy Robeson (“The Life”) and Ronald “Smokey” Stevens, (“Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “Dreamgirls,” and “Innocent Black”), and has been playing on a limited commercial run Off Broadway at the 47th Street Theater, where it opened January 28 and is skedded to close March 7.

Co-conceived by Stevens and Jaye Stewart, the tuner originally had only a live piano accompaniment; now, says Springer, there will be “additional instrumentation changes” that will include a full jazz rhythm section.

Tuner centers on the exploits of several black performers on the national T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit — colloquial shorthand for “tough on black asses.”

If “Rollin’ ” gets Tony approval from the 24-member administration committee — half a dozen committee members interviewed said they believe it will — “Rollin’ ” may well be the first Broadway musical of the 2000 Tony season.

The Klub, formerly the Henry Miller Theater, was a controversial edition to the Tony field last season, as it’s also operated as a 500-seat cabaret space and nightclub.

“But if they’re voting without hypocrisy, they will have to vote to give it permanent eligibility,” said one administration committee member, who voted against the Kit Kat’s special dispensation for “Cabaret” last season; it won approval and the Tony for Best Revival.

But several other members pointed out that the vote to give “Cabaret” the Tony nod last season was based on numerous circumstantial reasons, none of which apply to the current “Rollin’ ” production.

Some said approval of “Cabaret” last season was based on the Roundabout’s preexisting Tony eligibility on Broadway at the Criterion Center, and its case was strengthened after a deal to place “Cabaret” in the Supper Club fell apart at the last minute.

Other committee members said “Cabaret” got its Tony stripes because a horse race was needed in the best-revival category and that a contest between just “The Sound of Music” and “1776” wasn’t pulse-quickening enough to warrant a best-revival category.

Whatever the case, the tuner, with Steven’s and Leslie Dickey at the helm, will start previews March 17 and will open at the Club March 24.

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