Laurents retunes ‘Hallelujah, Baby’

Tony-winning musical goes into workshop

“Hallelujah, Baby” is the latest Broadway musical to go the revision route. In an unusual switch, the show’s original book writer is doing the honors.

“It is a radically revised version,” said Arthur Laurents, whose new version of the 1967-68 Broadway tuner goes into workshop next month, with full stagings to come next season at the George Street Playhouse in Brunswick, N.J., and D.C.’s Arena Stage.

Just how radical are Laurents’ revisions? “This version has nine actors,” he said. “The original had over 20.”

“Hallelujah, Baby” tells the history of the African-American struggle for equality during the first half of the 20th century. The twist is that “the characters don’t get older,” Laurents said.

With a score by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, “Hallelujah, Baby!” won the Tony for best musical in 1968 but ran less than a year. Back then, the show competed against such unmemorable fare as “The Happy Time,” “How, Now, Dow Jones” and “Illya, Darling.” (And they say 2003-04 is a weak season!)

Even Styne once lamented that his only Tony came for composing “Hallelujah, Baby” and not “Gypsy,” “Funny Girl” or “Bells Are Ringing.”

Does the show need revising?

“I think it does,” said Laurents. “Hallelujah, Baby” will also get some new lyrics, courtesy of Amanda Green, daughter of the late Adolph Green.

Laurents directs the workshop, expected to feature Leslie Uggams as Momma. The actress created the show’s starring role of Georgina, which won her the actress Tony.

Choreographer is Hope Clarke, a member of the original “HB” ensemble. She also choreographed “Jelly’s Last Jam” on Broadway.

As for a Broadway revival of “Hallelujah, Baby,” Laurents declared, “That’s the idea.”

Jerry Herman has similar wishes for his revised “Mack and Mabel,” which gets a staging this fall at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn.

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