Schneider legit gigs his second 'Act'

NEW YORK — F. Scott Fitzgerald obviously wasn’t thinking of Peter Schneider when he wrote that there are no second acts in America.

After leaving his Disney prexy job in 2001, Schneider has refashioned himself as a legit director. Last year, he helmed the musical “Grand Hotel” at L.A. Colony Theater. Among his upcoming projects is the musical version of “Sister Act,” which he will helm and co-produce.

“Sister Act” is being written by composer Alan Menken, lyricist Glenn Slater and book writers Cheri and Bill Steinkeller. In a switch for Disney, the studio is licensing one of its hit movies instead of producing. (“High Fidelity” is the only previous example of a Disney legit license.) Those duties go to Schneider, Michael Reno and Albert Poland.

The “Sister Act” tuner is currently under consideration for an October 2006 slot at the Pasadena Playhouse, with Schneider at the helm. Sometime thereafter, Broadway looms.

Project is a reunion of sorts for Menken and Schneider, who was president of animation at Disney when “Beauty and the Beast” first unspooled onscreen. Later, Schneider became co-president of Disney Theatricals with Thomas Schumacher, and together the duo brought musicals “The Lion King” and “Aida” to the stage.

Regarding his switch to directing, Schneider remarked: “My desire was to get closer to the artistic process rather than further away from it. Disney was a terrific experience, but as you go further up in the hierarchy, you become less involved in the creative process, and I found that less satisfying.”

Next week, he begins rehearsals on a revival of Marc Blitzstein’s 1949 opera “Regina,” based on Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” at Bard College. He has commissioned Valerie Martin to adapt “Property,” her 2002 novel about slavery, into a stage play, which he will workshop in spring 2006.

Stages of life

Directing for the theater actually brings Schneider back to his first career. In the 1970s, he worked as a helmer and assistant stage manager at such small nonprofit theaters as Playwrights Horizons, WPA and Circle Rep. While there, he met Susana Meyer, who’s now the opera producer at Bard’s Summerscape Festival. She offered him the Blitzstein project, which will be performed July 29-Aug. 6 with Lauren Flanigan in the title role.

If “Sister Act” is the biggest project on Schneider’s plate, then “Regina” is his grandest departure. “I’ve never directed an opera, and I am truly fearful with excitement,” he said. “I don’t worry about the success of these things. I worry about the doing of them.”

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