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Noises Off: Head of the class

Musical moves from MTC to Broadway in February

NEW YORK – The new regime at Musical Theater Works has hit a home run in its first at-bat. With its “new” Ed Kleban musical “A Class Act” transferring from the Manhattan Theater Club to Broadway in February, the MTW team of Marty Bell, Lonny Price and Randy Lutterman have already reached a major milestone.

“We’re on a five-year plan,” says Bell, MTW board president. “This is our second year, and the goal of the second year was to do a co-production with a not-for-profit. That’s ‘Class Act.’ The fifth-year goal is to have our own theater and our own season of musicals.”

Chase Mishkin, who enhanced “Class Act” at MTC, joins with Bell and new MTW board member Arielle Tepper in moving the musical to the Ambassador Theater in 2001.

Broadway is grand, but the real test for the workshop group comes this week when, several blocks downtown at MTW’s Lafayette space, the tuner org presents a series of staged readings for “The Girl Most Likely To,” a new musical based on Joan Rivers’ 1972 ABC teleplay about a homely girl (Stockard Channing) who is transformed into the world’s most glamorous female after a near-fatal car crash. Music and lyrics are by MTW resident writers Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, with book by Dennis Markell and Doug Bernstein.

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In addition to Goldrich and Heisler, writers in the MTW program include Jason Robert Brown (“Parade”), John Bucchino (“Urban Myths”), Kirsten Childs (“Bubbly Black Girl”), Ricky Ian Gordon (“Dream True”), Adam Guettel (“Floyd Collins”), Michael John La Chiusa (“Marie Christine”), Andrew Lippa (“The Wild Party”), Glenn Slater (“The New Yorkers”), Grant Sturiale (“Black Stone”) and Jeanine Tesori (“Violet”).According to Price, MTW board member Daisy Prince came up with the concept of the resident program for composers, lyricists and book writers. “They are the theater,” says Price, MTW artistic director. “We don’t take submissions, solicited or unsolicited. We won’t do anything not written by our resident writers.”

Musicals being the ultimate mass effort, a few non-MTW collaborators have snuck in. Other works in progress to be given staged readings this inaugural season include “Shimmer,” based on Sarah Schulman’s novel about New York City in the late 1940s. Schulman adapts her book to the stage, with music by Gordon and lyrics by Michael Korie (“The Life and Times of Harvey Milk”). Scott Elliott is attached to direct.

Rene Fullop Mueller’s novel “Sing Breath Sing,” about the freakish vocal talents and subsequent international career of a 4-year-old opera star, is the basis for “Entourage,” with music by Sturiale, lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh (“Muscle”) and book by Price.

Tesori is the composer on an untitled one-woman show to star Kristin Chenoweth, who is co-writing the book with Dick Scanlan (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”). Michael Mayor will direct.

But MTW doesn’t have a monopoly on some of these musical talent. Second Stage, in its first batch of musical commissions, has set to work a number of the same creatives in the MTW program.

In development are LaChiusa’s “Little Fish,” Richard Pearson Thomas’ “Golden Gate,” which recently received the Michael Stewart Prize, and “Allison Under the Stars,” by Heisler and Goldrich. The duo, best known heretofore for their cabaret work, are especially hot. Their “Adventures in Love,” staged at St. Paul’s Ordway Center last spring, is a likely commercial transfer.

GOOD GIRL TRUMPS BAD BOY

Producer Hal Luftig is looking to a November opening for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” on Broadway. The well-reviewed new tuner closed Dec. 10 at La Jolla Playhouse. Before fall, “Millie” will probably play two cities, one being New Haven, before coming into New York.

The concept for turning the 1967 film into a stage musical originated 12 years ago when book writer Dick Scanlan took two videotapes, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Bob Guccione’s “Caligula,” to his summer share in the Hamptons.

“Guests kept asking to see ‘Millie,’ ” Scanlan recalls. “I saw the movie so many times that after a while I began to deconstruct it, thinking this could make a great (stage) musical.”

And as for the Guccione porn epic? “I never did get around to seeing it,” says the scribe. “I think it would make a quite different musical.”

Scanlan’s other big project is the aforementioned Chenoweth musical at MTW. “Its schedule depends entirely on Kristin’s new TV series,” he says.

“Kristin” is looking iffy as a midseason replacement on NBC, which could be good news in some quarters.

FROM ‘BABY’ TO ‘STONES’

“The Play About the Baby,” by Edward Albee, will have its Gotham premiere at the Century Center, following “The Gorey Details,” which closed Dec. 10. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer recently completed another play. As always, it is intriguingly titled: “Who Is Sylvia? or the Goat” …

Last week, Actors’ Equity approved Conleth Hill and Sean Campion to reprise their roles in the Broadway production of “Stones in His Pockets,” by Marie Jones. Previews at the Golden Theater begin March 23, with the opening set for April 10.

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