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Tuners tune up for B’way

Holiday season alive with staged readings, workshops

Broadway is preparing for its usual post-holiday hibernation, as shows close and the B.O. slides precipitously, but the holiday season was alive with staged readings and workshops for new musicals that should make their way into theaters in the new year.

The tuners-in-progress included “The Night They Raided Minsky’s” at the Manhattan Theater Club, “The Girl Most Likely To…” at Musical Theater Works, “Me and Mrs. Jones” at 890 Broadway and a full-scale workshop of “Yo’ Alice” at Radio City Music Hall’s rehearsal space.

Director-choreographer Maurice Hines told invited guests on the seventh floor of Radio City that “Yo’Alice” represented nine years of his career. The hip-hop version of “Alice in Wonderland” had been scheduled for a fully staged production in Atlanta this month, but ran into venue problems.

“It was to be a LORT (League of Resident Theaters) enhancement, but when that didn’t happen Actors’ Equity let us transfer it to a workshop,” says WMA’s Susan Weaving, who has packaged the show featuring music and lyrics by Timothy Graphenreed and Lee Summers.

Weaving, who is VP of Broadway touring and theatrical booking at William Morris, calls the switch from Atlanta to a New York “a mini miracle. Nobody in the industry would have been able to see it (in Atlanta) this time of year.” The agent terms the show “a hybrid” since its potential audience skews younger than those for most Broadway musicals. “We have to figure out the overall attack is,” she says, meaning everything from musicvideo and TV to soundtrack and film. As for the latter, Weaving is quick to note, “We have strong interest in it as a movie, that is absolutely definite.”

At present, Radio City Entertainment holds the option to “Yo’ Alice.”

Weaving also oversaw a reading of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” a revue of Sound of Philadelphia songs by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Its producers — David Brokaw, Murray Schwartz and Lou Rawls, who also stars — are currently in “feedback” mode. “Some people think it should open on the West End,” says Weaving. “Others think it should open in New York, which would take more lead time.”

Brokaw doubts there would be a workshop of “Mrs. Jones” before its world premiere. “Our main interest is getting it up and running, whatever makes the most sense business wise,” he says. “We’re waiting for Susan to come back to us with various opportunities. The broad strokes are there. The music dictates what it is.”

Charles Randolph-Wright, whose play “Blue” opens at the Roundabout’s Gramercy Theater in June, wrote the book as well as directed the reading.

Over at Musical Theater Works, the new team of artistic director Lonny Price and exec producer Randy Lutterman looks to follow up their “A Class Act” success with Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich’s “The Girl Most Likely To…,” the first project out of MTW’s resident-writers program.

Price, who co-wrote “Sally Marr and Her Escorts” with Joan Rivers, secured the rights to the comic’s 1972 ABC teleplay about an ugly duckling who is transformed into a beautiful woman only to seek revenge upon her past tormentors. Lutterman says the musical with book by Douglas Bernstein and Denis Markell, possesses “such strong bones” it may not need another round of staged readings before going into a two-to-six-week workshop.

MTW took its first project, “A Class Act,” to the not-for-profit Manhattan Theater Club, which had a fall 2000 slot open. Lutterman says there is no set production route for their other shows, indicating that this “Girl” could conceivably go right to a commercial production after their first round of reading, directed by Price. “Aida” star Sherie Rene Scott played the bags-to-bitchin’ girl at the reading.

Last year, “The Night They Raided Minsky’s” had been one of the most anticipated shows for the current legit season. A pre-Gotham tryout had been announced for the Ahmanson Theater in summer 2000, but was abruptly canceled when the show’s creator, director Mike Ockrent, died in December 1999.

Jerry Zaks has now directed a reading of the tuner at MTC, with Erin Dilly (formerly of “Thoroughly Modern Millie”) and Katie Finneran (currently of “Cabaret”) performing.

At present, the show’s creatives — composer Charles Strouse, lyricist Susan Birkenhead and book writer Evan Hunter — are making a marriage with producers. There are rumored to be a veritable horde beating down their door. Next season, a Broadway theater should be no problem, with Jujamcyn very involved.

“We have never had an official business relationship with the show,” says Jujamcyn artistic director Jack Viertel, “but we continue to be friends in court.” Viertel calls himself the musical’s “unofficial dramaturg.”

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