'Music Man' star ponders new musical; Sputco sells 'Sawyer'

NEW YORK – Craig Bierko, star of “The Music Man,” is in negotiations to headline the Susan Stroman-helmed musical “Thou Shalt Not,” one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the 2001-2002 legit season.

Based on Emile Zola’s “Therese Raquin,” the musical not only features Harry Connick Jr.’s first score for the stage but represents Stroman’s fourth project as director-choreographer in just two years, beginning with “Contact,” “The Music Man” and “The Producers.”

Bierko would play the lover Laurent who with his mistress, Therese, murders her husband, who returns as a ghost to haunt the two killers. Lincoln Center Theater, which workshopped “Thou Shalt Not” last fall and is presenting it on Broadway, has not announced casting for the show.

SELLING ‘TOM': HIGH-DEF ‘SAWYER’ SPOT

While “The Producers” appears to have sucked up every last drop of media oxygen, there is still one more big, new Broadway musical opening this season: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” That show’s producers are hoping to tap into an audience seeking old-fashioned family entertainment devoid of swastikas and expletives.

Swimming upstream against the “Producers” media blitz, ad agency Spotco enlisted “Live from Lincoln Center” supervising producer Marc Bauman to help them sell the show.

“We went for iconic moments from the Mark Twain story,” Bauman says of his TV commercial debut. “We’re not selling a show nobody has heard of. It’s not a big learning curve.”

In a first for Broadway, Bauman shot the spot in high-def 24p video, “to make it look more like film,” says the roducer.

Spotco’s Drew Hodges emphasizes the “adventure quality” of the TV commercial, which replicates the look of N.C. Wyeth’s famed illustrations for “Last of the Mohicans” and “Treasure Island,” at a cost of $250,000.

TV spots often lag a month or two after a show’s premiere, but Spotco is rushing out the “Tom Sawyer” ad. “It’s coming out just after the (April 26) opening,” says Hodges. “We wanted to hit before, but had to wait for production to finish.”

Elsewhere, Spotco just debuted new ads for some of its other shows, each slightly different. “Jane Eyre” features real-people testimonials, “A Class Act” uses celeb raves, while “Seussical” sells its newest addition, pop star Aaron Carter.

“We shot that one in an hour,” Hodges recalls. “Aaron had a concert in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and we did in his hotel room. It looks very MTV.”

During the week of April 9-15, the much-beleaguered “Seussical” enjoyed one of its best sessions ever, grossing $625,557 on a potential of $755,427.

AND I’M TELLING YOU …: ‘DREAMGIRLS’ GETS DREAM CAST

The Actors’ Fund of America will produce a benefit concert performance of the 1981 Michael Bennett musical “Dreamgirls” on Sept. 24 with the female leads played by Audra McDonald, Heather Headley and Lillias White.

“Dreamgirls” opened at the Imperial Theater on Dec. 21, 1981, featuring a score by composer Henry Krieger and lyricist Tom Eyen, who also wrote the book about a Supremes-style group that rose to national fame during the 1960s.

Jennifer Holliday won a Tony for her turn as Effie, the Dreamgirl who got axed from the group. White essays the role in the benefit performance, with Headley playing Lorrell and McDonald playing the Diana Ross-like Deena.

Billy Porter (“Smokey Joe’s Cafe”) and Norm Lewis (“Side Show”) are the male leads in the concert performance, with a third yet to be cast. Taye Diggs has been mentioned.

The “Dreamgirls” concert will be staged by Seth Rudetsky in a Shubert Theater yet to be announced. The Shuberts were the original producers of the musical.

COMIC BOOKINGS: CHITA SEES A GHOST

Before bowing in the world premiere of the musical based on Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “The Visit” at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, vet Chita Rivera will star in “Casper the Musical” at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in June.

After its Pittsburgh run, “Casper” plays dates at Kansas City Starlight Musicals (July 15-22), Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars (July 24-29) and Dallas Summer Musicals (July 31-Aug. 5).

Rivera goes into rehearsals for the John Kander/Fred Ebb/Terrence McNally “Visit” tuner immediately following the Dallas engagement of “Casper.”

Van Kaplan, lead producer of the”Caspar” summer tour and exec producer of the Pittsburgh CLO, was careful to classify his show as a brand-new musical.

“It is not the London show,” he said of a 1999 West End incarnation, also based on the boy-ghost character of comic-book fame. “There’s nothing remaining from the London production. It’s a totally new book and all new music.”

Stephen Cole and David Bell are co-authors of the new “Casper” book, with score by Matthew Ward and Henry Marsh, who contributed songs to the London production. Phil Pickett, who was part of the London songwriting team, is not attached to the U.S. version. Bell, who directed the West End show, remains as director.

Cole likened Rivera’s character, Maria Magdalena, to Cruella de Ville from Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.”

“She is a glamorous media celebrity of a certain age who organizes a reality TV show, a treasure hunt to find a deed to buried treasure in a haunted house,” explained the writer. Therein, MM meets Casper and his three phantom uncles.

RIALTO RUMBLINGS: WHAT GOES AROUND…

Mark Brokaw segues from ICM to the William Morris Agency, where he will be repped by George Lane. Brokaw most recently directed Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero” at Playwrights Horizons, and will be at the helm of Douglas Carter Beane’s new one, “Music from a Sparkling Planet.”

“Music” focuses on three young men who go in search of a kids’ TV show hostess from their youth. The world premiere is set for June at the Drama Dept. Brokaw also directed the playwright’s “As Bees in Honey Drown.” …

The Steppenwolf’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on Broadway extends six weeks to July 29. The advance still hovers high at over $2 million …

Jeffrey Eric Jenkins is the new editor of the Best Plays series. He succeeds Otis L. Guernsey Jr., who edited 36 volumes of the annual pub …

Alan Cumming replaces the previously announced Henry Winkler and John Ritter as host of the National Broadway Theater Awards on May 21 at the Supper Club …

Reba McEntire and Eric McCormack will announce Tony Award noms on May 7 at Sardi’s.

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