‘Thunder’ rolls to Gotham

Tulchin returns with Mordecai, Hall

The musical “Thunder Knockin’ on the Door” could storm Gotham this legit season.

Producer Ted Tulchin, who had been involved with an aborted effort to bring “Thunder” to New York in spring 2000, is back on board with a new producing team that includes Benjamin Mordecai and Thomas Hall.

Hall is currently represented on Broadway with “The Full Monty.” Mordecai is a longtime producer of August Wilson’s plays, including “King Hedley II,” which closed on Broadway earlier this month.

Marion McClinton directed “Hedley” and is set to helm “Thunder” for New York; he previously staged the show at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater.

Dueling guitars

“Thunder” had its world premiere in 1996 at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, which commissioned the tuner about two guitarists who stage a blues duel in Bessemer, Ala. Music and lyrics are by Keb Mo’ and Anderson Edwards; book is by Keith Glover, who directed productions of the show at Arena Stage, Stamford Center for the Performing Arts and the Old Globe, where Hall was managing director. Glover also wrote the plays “Dancing on Moonlight,” “Coming of the Hurricane” and “In Walks Ed.”

Last year, producer Mitchell Maxwell had talked about a Broadway run for “Thunder,” but in spring 2000 he announced an Off Broadway engagement at the Minetta Lane under his Momentum Prods. banner in conjunction with Tulchin. Two weeks before the show’s first preview, on May 12, Maxwell pulled the plug on the production, releasing a press statement that raised eyebrows in the legit community.

Not up to N.Y. standards

The cancellation notice quoted Maxwell, who said: “Despite positive notices and enthusiastic audience responses at a variety of regional theaters, my producing partners and I agreed that although this piece was absolutely suitable for those audiences, it was not up to the standards of a more discerning New York audience. We did not believe that the artistic collaboration needed to bring it to this level was possible.” Glover was to have directed the show at the Minetta Lane.

Two months earlier, Maxwell had a very different take on the show. “I think the music is absolutely sensational,” he had said. “The essence of the story and the message is quite exciting.”

Tulchin called the “Thunder” press release announcing its Gotham cancellation “unfortunate.” The producer said it was written without his knowledge: “I was out of town in Chicago; it did not have my imprimatur on it.”

More recently, Maxwell was lead producer on the 2001 Broadway revival of “Bells Are Ringing,” which folded after a short run and is best remembered for the number of checks it sent bouncing at the Plymouth Theater.

Tulchin earlier collaborated with Maxwell on the Off Broadway production of Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize winner “Dinner With Friends” at the Variety Arts Theater.

Tulchin said casting, theater and performance dates on “Thunder” would be announced in the coming weeks.

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