Killing the ghosts

NEW YORK — Christine Ebersole, Mary Louise Wilson and John McMartin lead the cast of the Sundance Lab workshop (Nov. 29-Dec. 13) of new musical “Grey Gardens,” based on the 1975 documentary about “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, wacky cousins of Jacqueline Onassis. The project is Doug Wright‘s follow-up to “I Am My Own Wife,” and his collaborators are Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (“Doll”).

The scribes promise “‘Crying Game’-type casting,” not that anyone does drag.

Back at the Broadway preem of “Wife,” Wright looked upon the “Grey Gardens” tuner as a very chancy project. “It will be either a big hit or a big disaster,” he predicted. A year later, he seems a little less ambivalent. “I think it’s going to work.”

Frankel had two stipulations about the musical: “No flashbacks and no ghosts.”

Although the movie focused on the two Edies as a pair of Miss Havishams, the musical promises a host of real-life characters including the famous Bouviers (Jackie, Lee and their father, Black Jack) as well as most of the Kennedy clan. There’s even an engagement party for Edie Bouvier and Joseph Kennedy Jr., who was killed in World War II.

“Well, they did date,” says Frankel.

Michael Greif directs the workshop.

Above the title

John Patrick Shanley‘s “Doubt” looks likely for a Broadway transfer under the direction of Doug Hughes. The Cherry Jones/Brian F. O’Byrne starrer would be Manhattan Theater Club’s first commercial outing since fall 2000, when they had the double-header of “Proof” and “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.” Carole Shorenstein Hays was on the producing team of both plays, and she also holds the commercial rights on “Doubt.”

Ready for reggae

Clear Channel’s David Ian is casting about for a book writer for the new Bob Marley musical. Scribes looking to write the reggae star’s bio need not apply.

“The musical will not be a biography,” says Ian, who expects the show to be ready for London in 2006. “We’re looking to create a new musical using Marley’s song.” In other words, do not think “The Boy From Oz” or “Lennon,” but rather “Mamma Mia!,” “We Will Rock You,” “Movin’ Out,” “Good Vibrations” and “All Shook Up,” all of which construct fictional stories around an artist’s existing catalog.

Isn’t there already a serious glut of these shows? Or, like movies turned into musicals, are catalog tuners now a staple of the legit landscape?

Ian votes for the latter. “People enjoy going into a show and humming the tunes,” he says. “They all stand or fall (on) if they’re good or not.

As for taking the “Movin’ Out” route, where choreography is the book, “It is not something we’re thinking of, but it wouldn’t be thrown out of court.”

At present, the court includes Ian, WMA’s Clint Mitchell and Bob’s widow and son, Rita and Ziggy Marley.

Disney meets the Met

Disney Theatricals made news earlier this autumn when prexy Thomas Schumacher announced Francesca Zambello would direct “The Little Mermaid” tuner. Following the Julie Taymor-led “Lion King,” it’s the second time the House of Mouse has eschewed traditional Broadway talent in favor of opera folk.

“Perhaps the attraction isn’t just that they are opera directors, but rather they are directors who love diversity and reaching beyond the conventional,” Schumacher says “(They) explore scale, music, dance and design in a variety of media.”

And so the opera-to-legit (and vice versa) crossover continues: In October, Taymor helmed “The Magic Flute” at the Met. Also this fall, Mark Lamos follows his production of “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” at NYC Opera by crossing the Lincoln Center plaza to stage “The Rivals” at the Vivian Beaumont.

Add to that list Stephen Wadsworth, who makes his Met Opera debut Dec. 2 with the house premiere of Handel’s “Rodelinda.”

If Wadsworth’s productions of Moliere and Marivaux are any indication, Handel himself might recognize what Met auds are about to see. “I’m interested in presenting to the public what is the sensibility and the aesthetic of the person who created the piece,” Wadsworth says.

Wadsworth thinks he has a handle on the current vogue for opera directors. “Francesca Zambello and I grew up in opera, which meant we got to work with scale. Theater directors who come up through regional theaters, which is poor, often don’t deal with large casts.”

Speaking of the regionals, Wadsworth may have the inside track to replace artistic director Sharon Ott at Seattle Rep. “The question comes up every four years,” acknowledges the director, who has a long relationship with that company. “I can’t really say, but I’m on the verge of deciding to throw my hat in the ring.”

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