NEW YORK — Director Mike Ockrent was at work on “The Producers,” as well as two other original stage musicals, “Rooms” and “The Night They Raided Minsky’s,” when he died in December 1999. Ockrent’s wife, Susan Stroman, who had originally signed on to choreograph “The Producers,” took the directing reins as well on the Mel Brooks musical — and the rest is Broadway history.
Recently, Ockrent’s two other tuners have shown vital signs of rebirth.
The creatives behind the “The Night They Raided Minsky’s” are giving the show its third reading May 4 under the auspices of its lead producer Douglas S. Cramer (“The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife”).
“I directed the first one in December,” says composer Charles Strouse (“Annie”). “Jerry Zaks is now the director and he is doing this third reading.” Reg Rogers (“Cellini”) and Erin Dilly (“Follies”) are the leads.
Ockrent assembled the “Minsky’s” creative team of Strouse, lyricist Susan Birkenhead (“Jelly’s Last Jam”) and book writer Evan Hunter, who is making his legit debut with the show.
Hunter is adamant that his musical bears no resemblance to the 1968 film directed by William Friedkin. “Except for the name and the raid,” says the writer, who pens the “87th Precinct” series under the name Ed McBain. “Actually, Minsky’s burlesque house was raided many times.”
Strouse wrote the score for the Friedkin film, but said he never conceived of it as a stage musical until Ockrent suggested the idea. None of his film score is being used for the stage musical.
It’s expected the May 4 reading will determine if “Minsky’s” gets its world premiere on Broadway or at a regional theater. Gordon Davidson had originally announced the musical for summer 2000 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, but those plans were abandoned with Ockrent’s death. Davidson has seen previous readings of “Minsky’s” and reportedly remains interested in the tuner. The Ahmanson recently released its 2001-02 season, with its spring slot yet to be filled.
Return to ‘Rooms’
According to Paul Scott Goodman, producer Richard Frankel (“The Producers”) has optioned his two-person musical “Rooms,” another Ockrent project that originated with the late director.
Patrick Herold of Helen Merrill Ltd. said his client Christopher Ashley (“The Rocky Horror Show”) was “in discussions” with Frankel to direct the new tuner.
Ockrent met with Goodman (“Bright Lights, Big City”) in early 1999 and together they developed the storyline of a Scottish Jewish girl and an Irish Catholic boy who live, love and write songs together in a series of rooms.
Calls to Frankel’s office were not returned. (If you have room, add the rest, if not… bob)