Noises Off: ‘Jeeves’ finally reaches B’way

Vineyard has Wright stuff

NEW YORK — After a long haul that might have tried the patience of even the famously unflappable title character, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Alan Ayckbourn tuner “By Jeeves” has confirmed a Broadway opening this fall.

The musical based on the stories by P.G. Wodehouse had hoped to come into the Helen Hayes Theater last season after a tryout in Pittsburgh, but the theater was snapped up by Hershey Felder’s “George Gershwin Alone.”

“I think it’s worked to our benefit, actually,” says Michael P. Price, topper of Goodspeed Musicals, the show’s Broadway producer. “We’re coming in with less pressure, and we’ve had more time to think about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

It also helps that the small-scale tuner will not be squashed under the foot of last season’s behemoth, “The Producers,” which won all the Tonys and all the attention last spring, when “Jeeves” was hoping to come to town.

The show, which had its U.S. preem at the Goodspeed in October 1996 and was subsequently staged in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., is skedded to begin previews Oct. 17 for an Oct. 28 opening.

It’s capitalized at $1.5 million, and Price’s figures indicate that if the show plays to 70% capacity at the approximately 600-seat Helen Hayes, it could recoup in 26 weeks.

Ayckbourn will direct, and while casting is not set, Price indicated they hoped to be able to reassemble the cast from last spring’s production. In that version, John Scherer played the clueless Bertie Wooster and Martin Jarvis was his intrepid manservant Jeeves.

Wright Stuff

New plays from the pen of “Quills” scribe Doug Wright will kick off the Vineyard Theater’s 20th-anniversary season this fall.

Wright will make his directorial debut with “Unwrap Your Candy,” an evening of four short plays described as “macabre bedtime tales for adults.” Show will begin previews Sept. 19 and open Oct. 8.

Next up at the Vineyard will be “Brutal Imagination,” described as a music-theater piece inspired by the case of Susan Smith. Created by Diedre Murray and Cornelius Eady, whose musical “Running Man” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999, the show will imagine what might happen if the African-American man invented by Smith to cover up the murder of her children shows up to tell his side of the story.

The director is Diane Paulus, who helmed the long-running Off Broadway hit “The Donkey Show” and last season’s Vineyard hit “Eli’s Comin’,” a musical revue adapted from the songs of Laura Nyro. “Brutal Imagination” will begin previews at the Vineyard Dec. 19 for a Jan. 27 opening.

Vineyard artistic director Douglas Aibel said the company also plans to bring “Eli’s Comin’ ” back next season, although no dates or details have been set.

Disco revival

Drag is making a comeback at Studio 54.

This doesn’t mean RuPaul is following Brooke Shields as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” — although these days, you never know — but that the Kinsey Sicks, who bill themselves as “America’s favorite drag beautyshop quartet,” are inaugurating a new space, Upstairs at 54, above the former nightclub with their act this fall.

The show, “Dragapella,” begins previews Oct. 10 for an Oct. 17 opening. It’s directed by Glenn Casale, who helmed the recent Broadway revival of “Peter Pan,” starring Cathy Rigby. Exec producer is Maria Di Dia.

The popular San Francisco-based a capella drag quartet was formed in 1993 after Ben Schatz and three friends began singing one night after a drag outing to a Bette Midler concert. They began performing soon after and their combination of original songs and song parodies quickly found a large audience.

Schatz’s prior career was in the professional sphere. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he founded the first organization fighting AIDS discrimination after his 1985 graduation.

As the popularity of the Kinsey Sicks snowballed — the name comes from the infamous Kinsey scale, six being the top of the chart in terms of homosexuality — Schatz and his cohorts found it harder to keep two careers in gear. He gave up his job in advocacy two years ago to devote his time to managing the group.

Channeling a new moniker

Clear Channel Entertainment, the theatrical producing and presenting entity formerly known as SFX, has launched a promotional campaign to unify the various theater-subscription series it presents in more than 40 U.S. cities.

Called “Broadway Across America,” the initiative is aimed at both consumers and sponsors. The company’s variously titled series will all be renamed “Broadway in Houston,” etc., and be identified as part of “Broadway Across America.”

Benefits to consumers in local markets include an ability to move subscriptions from city to city without losing membership privileges and obtain seats for shows in other cities more easily. Plan also provides sponsors with an opportunity “to create national ticket promotions, in-store sweepstakes … as well as generate brand awareness from inclusion in Broadway Across America’s advertising and media programs,” according to Paula Balzer, chief marketing officer at Clear Channel Entertainment.

“This is both a branding campaign and a way to give a sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval to our product,” says Scott Zeiger, CEO of Theatrical North America for Clear Channel Entertainment. “We have tremendous corporate sponsor support and we hope that this will help in that department, but the focal point is patron-based.”

Although the inclusion of non-Equity shows in such subscription series has caused flack with Actors’ Equity, Zeiger says that’s not a concern.

“This initiative is not in response to or in recognition of that dialogue,” he says. “Our point of view is to present the very best available shows; 95% of the shows are Equity shows. But when ‘Stomp,’ for example, first came through it wasn’t, and our subscribers wanted to see that show.”

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