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Beatle for B’way

Yoko OKs songs for 'Lennon' musical

NEW YORK — Imagine the songs of John Lennon on Broadway.

Yoko Ono has signed off on a new stage musical to be produced by Edgar Lansbury and Don Scardino. Yet to be titled, the tuner is projected for the 2004-05 Broadway season, and is being referred to as simply “The Lennon Project.”

Broadway has been extremely hospitable of late to shows based on a composer’s pre-existing songs. “The Lennon Project,” however, looks to add a twist to what’s on the boards or about to open this season. According to Lansbury and Scardino, their show is neither a traditional book musical (Abba’s “Mamma Mia”), a ballet (Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out”), a bio tuner (Peter Allen’s “The Boy From Oz”) or based on a film (Jerome Kern’s “Never Gonna Dance”).

So what is it?

“Our project is the story of Lennon as lighting rod and how he defined the times and how the times defined him,” said Scardino, who is directing as well as co-writing the book with playwright Eric Overmyer. As he and Lansbury presented their concept to Yoko Ono, the musical uses Lennon’s songs to tell the story of the 1960s and 1970s. “Lennon’s changes corresponded to our generation: There was the rocker, the hippie, the meditation guru, the transcendentalist, the political revolutionary, the house husband, and all the while there was the evolving artist,” said Scardino.

Yet to be cast is an ensemble of 12 actors, each of whom will play an aspect of Lennon’s personality.

The two producers began the negotiation process with Ono more than three years ago. Delays occurred when Columbia Pictures pursued a biopic of the ex-Beatle and negotiated for rights to his songs, as well as elements of his life story. That project is no longer in development.

Scardino and Lansbury estimated that the stage musical would showcase about 30 Lennon songs, all of them written after the Beatles’ breakup. Sony’s ATV owns the John Lennon-Paul McCartney catalogue. Lansbury said they were negotiating with Sony for the rights to one of those songs, “Give Peace a Chance,” which Lennon recorded with the Plastic Ono Band but is credited as Lennon-McCartney.

Which leaves “Imagine,” “Mind Games,” “Gimme Some Truth,” “Working Class Hero,” “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and 200 other Lennon songs to put on stage.

Lansbury expects one out-of-town engagement prior to Broadway. Before then, Scardino helms “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” set to open at the Longacre Theater next month.

* * *

There are money problems at “Paper Doll,” set to open Dec. 8 on Broadway but now postponed indefinitely. Again.

“Due to a delay in certain finances,” said the statement from producer Randall L. Wreghitt. No future date set for the play by Mark Hampton and Barbara J. Zitwer. Swoosie Kurtz had been announced to play trash novelist Jacqueline Susann, with Judd Hirsch costarring under the direction of Leonard Foglia.

Good news for Wreghitt: his other production, “Golda’s Balcony,” opens tonight at the Helen Hayes Theater.

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