Noises Off: Out from Down Under

Talent switch on B'way bound Oz musical

Robert Fox and Ben Gannon are retooling their production of hit musical “The Boy From Oz,” which grossed $33 million in its 26-month run Down Under. The producers have brought in director Philip William McKinley and playwright Martin Sherman to replace, respectively, Gale Edwards and Nick Enright on the bio tuner, based on the life of Peter Allen.

Why the talent switch?

“The show was designed for an Australian audience, and it needed to be rethought in terms of an American audience,” Fox says with respect to the intended Broadway production. “A great deal of the story concerns Allen’s career in the U.S., and we felt it important not to bring Australians over to tell Americans what New York life was like in the 1970s.”

Allen, who died of AIDS in 1992, wrote a number of hit songs, including “I Go to Rio,” that comprise the show’s score. Trivialists also will recall his brief marriage to Liza Minnelli and his 1988 musical “Legs Diamond,” one of Broadway’s biggest flops. Fox says Sherman’s book does not gloss over Allen’s legit fiasco.

“Peter Allen was born, he did ‘Legs Diamond’ and he died. Without those three points, it is impossible to tell his story,” says the producer, who failed to mention Minnelli’s place in the arc of things.

George Lane, Sherman’s agent at William Morris, confirmed that “Oz” would be the “Bent” scribe’s first foray into musical theater.

As for McKinley, he came to the project via its general manager, Albert Poland, who worked with the helmer three years ago on Off Broadway’s “Zombie Prom.” In addition to directing Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s “Phantom” in Germany, McKinley probably is best known for having staged the Ringling Bros.’ Greatest Show on Earth six years running.

“Why do the circus?” asks McKinley, a longtime client of Bret Adams. “When I assisted George Abbott on a revival of ‘Damn Yankees’ at Papermill, I asked him how do you keep from getting bored. It was 1988, Abbott was 100 years old. He told me, ‘Do things that scare you.’ What can I say? The circus scares me.”

Slightly more scary might be McKinley’s next project: directing “Darren Romeo, the Voice of Magic” in Las Vegas. It’s Siegfried & Roy’s first production sans themselves.

Surviving that, he workshops the new “Boy From Oz” next spring, with Fox and Gannon looking toward a Broadway opening in the 2002-03 season. “Pending casting,” Fox cautions.

Pump it up

Dodger Theatricals has its eye on Charlotte Repertory Theater’s upcoming world premiere of “True Home,” by Cass Morgan of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” fame. Show opens Oct. 12.

Matt Olin, a former Dodger himself, left the company in March to become CRT’s managing director and associate producer, and he took “True Home” with him. The Dodgers licensed it to Charlotte Rep, and company artistic director Steve Umberger calls it a “new hybrid. The show is based on the life experience of Morgan but is not autobiographical.”

“True Home’s” score features contributions from talent new and established. Along with Morgan, songwriters on the show include Steve Alper, David Buckman, Randy Courts & Mark St. Germain, Jack Herrick, Stephen Schwartz and Jeanine Tesori.

Next big thing

The musical theater is always looking for the next big auteur.

In addition to seeing if “True Home” will turn into another “Pump Boys,” the Dodgers and nearly every other Broadway producer should be checking out the work of John Carrafa, who makes his directorial debut with the Morgan show. For the 2000-01 season alone, Carrafa’s choreography and musical-staging credits include “Urinetown,” “Dance of Death” and “Assassins” on Broadway; “Into the Woods” at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson; and “A Little Night Music” and “Company” at D.C.’s Kennedy Center.

Carrafa gets the rare credit of “musical staging by” on “Urinetown,” which opens Sept. 13 at the Henry Miller. “James Lapine suggested I take that credit for ‘Dirty Blonde,’ ” the choreographer says. “He said it means something more than ‘choreography by.’ ”

Olin and Umberger now are after Carrafa to follow one debut with another at Charlotte Rep. In February, they’re presenting the world premiere of Angus MacLachlan’s “Bridge,” based on the true story of a woman who was dragged from her car and beaten on a bridge as a group of people watched.

Not much opportunity for singing and dancing there; indeed, “Bridge” would mark Carrafa’s first effort at directing a straight play.

MacLachlan’s “The Dead-Eye Boy” opened to raves in May in its New York premiere at MCC. Lili Taylor starred as a super-abusive mom. Umberger says he thought of Carrafa for “Bridge” because the nonlinear drama “calls for movement that is not dance but exaggerated.”

Whether the busy Carrafa commits to “Bridge” remains to be seen. “I just don’t know if there’s time,” he says.

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