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Spring fling for show doctors

'Sister Act' talks retooling

While the shakeup at “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” has been well-publicized, the rest of the Broadway lineup has also brought on a slew of new creatives to shore up Gotham tuners including “Sister Act,” “Catch Me if You Can,” “Wonderland” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”

Although not all productions officially acknowledge the late additions, it’s generally understood that Brian Yorkey had a hand in the book of “Catch Me if You Can” while director Scott Ellis and writer Rupert Holmes are in the mix for “Wonderland.”

On the other hand, the Broadway incarnation of “Priscilla” credits helmer-choreographer Jerry Mitchell as a production supervisor. (Original choreographer, Ross Coleman, died unexpectedly in 2009.) And “Sister Act,” too, has made it official, with helmer Jerry Zaks and scribe Douglas Carter Beane reshaping the tuner by songwriters Alan Menken and Glenn Slater and original book writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner.

Although the challenges differ widely from show to show, in general the task of the late-arriving creative can be boiled down to a simple but hard-to-achieve objective. As Beane puts it: “My job is to make this show really land with people.”

Both Zaks and Beane say they’re more objective than the creators, which is an asset. But in order to take the gig, it helps to feel some connection with the material.

For Beane, the setting of “Sister Act,” which opens April 20 at the Broadway Theater, resonated. “When they said Philadelphia discos in the 1970s, I thought, ‘I was there,’ ” he says.

He also responded to the show’s disco-vs.-devotion dichotomy. “As the grandson of a Methodist minister, this is my daily life,” he cracks.

While pre-existing constraints vary depending on the show, there are some bones that newly added creatives are encouraged not to break, including most elements of the physical production. “Before I’d read the script or anything, I looked at the set and the song order,” Beane says.

Adds Zaks, who also was a late addition to last season’s “The Addams Family”: “I try to make any changes as inexpensive for the producer as I can.”

The helmer describes stepping into a show as a process of taming chaos, re-establishing clear individual duties for each collaborator and coming up with nuts-and-bolts solutions to creative problem points. “Choose your metaphor: It’s a patient on a table, or a ship with a leak,” he says. “The work is not at all philosophical; it’s entirely practical.”

Compared with the London incarnation of “Sister Act” (which opened in June 2009), the Broadway version has cut one song, added another and done a significant rewrite on a third.

Unlike Hollywood — where in-demand rewrite scripters can score mammoth weekly fees upfront in lieu of backend benefits — legit doctors, credited or not, usually sign on with some sort of royalties deal. Anything else, a legiter says, “is like betting against the show you’re supposedly working to improve.”

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