Theater fine tunes

MTC skeds ambitious musicals for season

The Manhattan Theater Club’s hopes for a Broadway transfer last season appeared to hinge on its winter 2000 production of Andrew Lippa’s “The Wild Party,” which ultimately never made the move to a big commercial venue. Instead, two unheralded plays that opened later in the season, Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” and David Auburn’s “Proof,” turned out to be the company’s winners with critics and audiences alike, and will have their Broadway premieres within days of each other this October.

MTC just announced two new additions to its 2000-2001 season, both of them ambitious tuners. Will lightning strike again?

“Time and Again,” based on the time-travel novel by Jack Finney, comes to MTC after a world premiere in 1996 at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. Music and lyrics are by Walter Edgar Kennon, with an original book by Jack Viertel, who is creative director at Jujamcyn Theaters and recently took over as artistic director of City Center’s Encores! series, replacing Kathleen Marshall, who will perform choreographic duties on the new musical. Susan H. Schulman has stepped in as director; Jack O’Brien, artistic director at the Old Globe, helmed the show there.

Different show

The creative team workshopped the musical in Gotham in May 1999. “It has undergone a lot of changes,” said Viertel. “It was not terribly successful at the Old Globe for many reasons. The show now has a very different script.”

Laura Benanti, Tony nominee for her turn in “Swing!,” appeared in the workshop and will headline “Time and Again” at MTC. During the workshop period, she co-starred opposite Richard Chamberlain in “The Sound of Music,” which was produced by Richard Frankel, Steven Baruch and Tom Viertel. Those same producers have enhanced the MTC production of “Time and Again,” making it the company’s next best bet for a Broadway run.

The show opens at MTC on January 30.

‘Class’ production

More unusual fare comes in the form of MTC’s other new tuner, “A Class Act,” with music and lyrics by Ed Kleban, the lyricist for “A Chorus Line” who died in 1987 at the age of 48. Linda Kline and Lonny Price, artistic director of Musical Theatre Works, have fashioned an original book around 20 songs written by Kleban.

“Although Ed is known for writing the lyrics to ‘A Chorus Line,’ he considered himself a composer as well as a lyricist,” said Clifford Lee Johnson III, MTC’s director of artistic development. “He wrote a lot of songs and a number of musicals that were not produced, to my knowledge. Kline and Price have taken a number of those songs and written a book that is essentially Ed Kleban’s story.”

The tuner workshopped at Musical Theatre Works and is being produced by MTC in association with MTW. Carolee Carmello, Jonathan Freeman, Randy Graff and Julia Murney head the cast. It opens on Oct. 31.

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