It took a while, but at last it’s beginning to seem as if Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures is everywhere.
On Oct. 31, a closed-door reading of Warners’ developing musical version of “Dave” — with music by Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”), lyrics by Nell Benjamin (“Legally Blonde”) and book by Thomas Meehan (“Annie,” “Hairspray”) — put the project on track for a premiere as early as the end of next year. And that’s just one of the shows in the works for WB’s legit arm, which after a fallow period has now picked up momentum.
On Broadway, licensed title “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which has built into a strong seller following critical raves this fall, will soon be joined by another licensee, “Honeymoon in Vegas,” starting previews Nov. 18. Two U.S. tours of “Elf,” the Warners-produced musical adaptation of the 2003 New Line movie, hit the road this month, while an animated special with tunes from the musical (featuring a cast led by Jim Parsons), “Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas,” airs on NBC, Dec. 16. In London, the Sam Mendes-helmed West End production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is doing well enough to warrant putting tickets on sale at least through October 2015; planning has begun to bring the show to Broadway during the 2016-17 season.
That’s quite a turnaround for a division that went quiet in the wake of 2006 flop “Lestat.” With the arm recharged in 2008, and now under the stewardship of former New Line exec Mark Kaufman, WB’s theater team is tasked with both adapting film titles and feeding other divisions of Warners. The NBC “Elf” special is an example, with the TV toon drawing on nearly 10 songs from the stage musical for a holiday special that harks back to those old Rankin-Bass Christmas favorites.
As for “Dave,” an adaptation of Ivan Reitman’s 1993 White House comedy, it’s part of a stage development slate that also includes a play version of “Misery,” based on the Stephen King novel that was adapted into a 1990 movie, and which Kaufman hopes to have cast and ready for Broadway in the next 12 months (with Will Frears directing and a William Goldman script); and an early-stages musical adaptation of “Beetlejuice” led by director Alex Timbers (“Here Lies Love,” “Rocky”).
Lauren Shuler Donner and Allison Thomas, who are co-producing “Dave” with WB, sat in on the reading, as did original screenwriter Gary Ross. With the search underway for a director, the hope is to have another reading in February, and to get the show onstage for an out-of-town tryout by the end of next year.
“As first readings go, it was an extremely strong start,” Kaufman said. “There’s still work to be done, but it sings. It’s like a traditional musical comedy.”