Conglom returns to stage with tuner

NEW YORK — Transamerica is returning to showbiz with the tuner “Like Jazz.”

The financial conglom looks to open the show on Broadway in the fall of 2005. Creatives on the project are book writer Larry Gelbart, lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman and composer Cy Coleman, who died last week.

“Cy’s death is untimely, but the circle is complete because he started with jazz,” Gelbart said.

An earlier incarnation of the musical had its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum last season. Gelbart noted the show’s title there, “Like Jazz,” would not grace a Broadway marquee. “We are changing it,” he said. “We never meant to come across that we were going to explain jazz or its history.”

According to Alan Bergman, the show is “not a book musical or a revue or a concert, but rather a new idiom.” Gelbart claimed the current incarnation is “totally different” from what auds saw at the Mark Taper. “It is not historical. It lets us visit the world inhabited by jazz musicians and their lives and the lives they touch.”

Gelbart and Bergman said the show would not have an out-of-town engagement before Broadway. Nor would a new composer be brought on to flesh out the music. “The score is complete,” Gelbart said.

Transamerica has a long history with the project, having underwritten the original Taper production.

Big comeback

Transamerica got out of show business in the 1980s with the demise of United Artists and the debacle of “Heaven’s Gate.” The Dutch company Aegon later bought Transamerica.

“What a nice way to get back into entertainment,” said Lon Olejniczak, managing director of Transamerica Capital. “This is our branding/investment opportunity.” William Morris reps the project.

Based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Olejniczak travels to Gotham next week to meet directors and put together a design team for the new tuner. Gordon Davidson helmed “Like Jazz” at the Mark Taper but will not repeat those duties for Broadway.

Although Transamerica will produce the Gelbart/Bergmans/Coleman show from the ground up, the venture does not mark the company’s Broadway debut. That milestone came earlier this season when it rescued the musical “Brooklyn,” which ran into money problems after the Toronto-based StageVentures II withdrew from the project. Transamerica made a last-minute cash infusion there and took a producer credit.

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