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Noises Off: Meadow looks to fresh pastures

Onstage with 'Morrie'

MTC’s Lynn Meadow is planning one of her rare helming forays outside New York. In addition to doing the national tour of “Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” she is readying a spring 2002 production of the new musical “Fanny Hackabout Jones” for a regional theater.

The question remains: Why not do “FHJ” at the Manhattan Theater Club?

“This is a big production,” says the artistic director — as if her company’s version of “The Wild Party” last year wasn’t pretty big. She says two regionals are interested and a decision will be made soon on the venue.

Meadow workshopped the tuner last spring at MTC after she performed resurrection duties on the project. Based on Erica Jong’s post-“Fear of Flying” novel “Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout Jones,” the tuner about a Moll Flanders-style heroine first came together more than a decade ago under Marty Bell and Hal Prince’s old New Musicals umbrella. One act got staged at the Long Wharf and then the creative team — composer Lucy Simon, lyricist Susan Birkenhead and book writer Jong — parted ways.

Nothing further developed on the project until two years ago, when Meadow, who fondly remembered that first act, wanted to see more, and so put the pieces back together, bringing in a new book writer, Jeffrey Hatcher.

Simon and Birkenhead remain in place. And, Meadow claims, “Erica Jong is still very much attached to the project.”

As for Hatcher, he has written a number of stage adaptations, including one of “Turn of the Screw,” and presumably knew the period of “Fanny Hackabout Jones,” give or take a century: His play “The Compleat Female Stage Beauty” charts the career travails of Ned Kynaston, an Elizabethan actor who specialized in female roles until Charles II came along and outlawed transvestite thesps on the stage. (“Female Beauty Show,” last staged at the Philadelphia Theater Co., goes to the Old Globe in winter-spring 2002, with Mark Lamos directing. Tribeca and Artisan have optioned it, with Hatcher now at work on the screenplay.)

Fully booked

Actually, “FHJ” is only one of three stage adaptations on Hatcher’s plate. He’s doing the book for “Never Gonna Dance,” based on the 1936 film “Swing Time,” with songs by Jerome Kern. The musical is being done under the auspices of the Weissberger Theater Group, Ted Hartley and RKO Pictures Corp., with Weissberg’s Jay Harris hoping to produce on Broadway next season.

And Mitch Albom has gone with Hatcher to adapt his nonfiction bestseller “Tuesdays With Morrie” to the stage. (Albom’s story, about his relationship with a college prof who’s dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, went the telepic route two years ago, with Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria starring.) The playwright’s agent, John Santoianni at Abrams, closed the deal in February and Hatcher presented a reading of the play at this summer’s O’Neill fest. David Esbjornson (“The Play About the Baby”) is attached to direct, with the Frankel Group producing.

Hatcher says some of the writers up for the “Morrie” job wanted six or seven characters in the play. “But I thought it should be very spare, two characters, maybe three,” he says, promising the finished play will be “very theatrical as opposed to realistic.”

Looking ahead

Ready to speculate on the 2002-03 legit season?

“A Man of No Importance,” a new musical by Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens and Terrence McNally, will be staged at Lincoln Center Theater next fall, says a source close to the production.

The show is based on the 1994 film, starring Albert Finney as an in-the-closet gay bus driver who has a thing for the plays of Oscar Wilde, including “A Woman of No Importance.”

LCT presented a reading of the musical last spring. Joe Mantello directed and is expected to repeat those duties when it comes to the full-scale production.

As for confirmation on the project’s future, LTC’s Bernard Gersten puts it rhetorically: “Do you think we have our fall 2002 schedule in place?” He neither confirms nor denies the report.

“Man” would be Flaherty and Ahrens’ first musical after “Seussical.” Between then and now, McNally will see his new musical, “The Visit,” written with John Kander and Fred Ebb, staged at Chi’s Goodman Theater in October. And come November, Mantello helms the Broadway premiere of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s “Assassins.”

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