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It’s all about Ives

Scribe does book duty on trio of tuners

NEW YORK — Two years ago, Terrence McNally put a sign over his writing desk: No More Musicals. After all, he had been working on the books for no less than three tuners (“The Full Monty,” “The Visit,” “A Man of No Importance”) and one opera (“Dead Man Walking”).

Filling the void today is David Ives. He’s the book writer for the upcoming “Dance of the Vampires,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Batman: The Musical.”

Ives came to book-writing through Encores!, where he has retooled the text for no less than 11 vintage tuners, including the concert series’ first stab at operetta, Sigmund Romberg’s “The New Moon,” due in spring 2003.

“David is the master of our two-page rule,” says Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel. “In a concert version, you can’t have actors recite 15 pages of text with books in their hands and an orchestra on stage.”

For his part, Ives calls the Encores! experience “literary ventriloquism.” Legit critics who rave about Encores! but complain about Broadway’s fully staged revivals may not realize how responsible Ives’ judicious cuts are for their double standard.

“You have to make them two-thirds of their original length, but extract the essence,” Ives says of concert shows.

At present, the scribe is consumed by the very different problem of “finding just the right tone” for “Dance of the Vampires,” in previews at the Minskoff. Or as he wishfully puts it, “We are out of town in previews at 44th and Carpathia.”

Jim Steinman, the show’s composer, had already hooked up with Ives to write “Batman: The Musical” when the two went to see “Vampires” in Stuttgart and Steinman asked him to come aboard on the undead project. Already a part of Broadway legend, the show went through a few producers and directors, as well as $12 million to $14 million, depending on whom you talk to. But Steinman and Ives have remained.

“Sometimes I feel like Ishmael at the end of ‘Moby Dick,'” he jokes. “Jim and I are left to tell how it came about.”

If he ever plans to write the behind-the-scenes story of “Vampires,” it will have to wait until at least 2005, which is when “Batman: The Musical” is skedded for Broadway. Blame the long wait on Tim Burton’s busy film sked. Ives has written a draft of the “Batman” script (“which Tim likes”), with Steinman having completed a half dozen songs.

“A Little Mermaid” is further along, says Ives: “We’ll have a round-table reading in February. It’s slated for out of town in spring 2004 and in town in fall 2004.” (The writer reveals director Matthew Bourne will definitely not be using actors on wires to simulate the show’s underwater sequences.)

Between “Vampires” and “Mermaid,” Ives will find time to get his new play “Polish Jokes” up at MTC, in spring 2003, with “Vampires” director John Rando at the helm. Calling it “a Polish coming-of-age story,” Ives promises, “not one more fang joke.”

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