BY BILLY SUTER
THERE is no stopping a great composer… at the ripe age of 90, Kansas-born John Kander, who created the music and songs for Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of The Spider Woman and The Rink, alongside the late lyricist Fred Ebb, is now working on a new stage project with director-choreographer Susan Stroman.
The new work, titled The Beast in the Jungle, created with playwright David Thompson, is scheduled for staging next year. It has been reported online that it is the only show of the season to be announced by New York’s Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre.
The Beast in the Jungle is based on a short story by Henry James. It examines the meaning of life, focusing on regret, love and loneliness, as it turns a spotlight on a man who believes he is is soon to face a great catastrophe.
News of the new musical follows the opening at the Vineyard Theatre last month of another musical from Kander, Kid Victory. First staged in 2015, it features book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, and officially opened at the Vineyard on February 22.
Directed by Liesl Tommy, with choreography by Christopher Windom, the new production features Jeffry Denman and Karen Ziemba.
Kid Victory tells the tale of a teenager who returns to his small Kansas town after a wrenching one-year absence. As his friendship grows with the town misfit, his parents realise that to truly find their son, they must confront some unnerving truths about his disappearance.
Getting back to the creators of The Beast in the Jungle… Kander, Stroman and Thompson are also the team behind the acclaimed Scottsboro Boys musical, which, featuring lyrics by Ebb, ran for two months on Broadway in 2010. It moved to London’s West End in 2014.
Based on a famous trial, the musical, which has the framework of a minstrel show, marked one of the last collaborations Kander had with Ebb before he died in New York, aged 76, in 2004.
The Broadway production garnered a dozen of Broadway’s Tony Award nominations but failed to win any.
Interestingly, reports Wikipedia, the previous record for Tony Award nominations without a win was 11, held by Steel Pier by and the original 1975 production of Chicago, both shows also by Kander and Ebb.
Also worth noting is that Kander’s first musical without Ebb in many years, The Landing, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, premiered at the Vineyard Theatre on October 23, 2013. Wikipedia reports that the musical, actually a series of three “mini-musicals”, was directed by Walter Bobbie and starred Julia Murney and David Hyde Pierce.
Talking of Pierce, he received a Tony Award nomination this week for his role in the current Broadway production of Hello Dolly!. It is the hottest show on the Great White Way right now, with tickets for the best seats selling for up to $748 (more than R10 000!) according to a US report.
Pierce’s fellow nominees for Best Lead Actor in a Musical include Josh Groban, for his role in the new work, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, an offbeat pop opera based on a slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It leads the Tonys race with a dozen nominations, two more than Hello Dolly!.
Groban reportedly learned to play accordion for his role as Pierre, which he will hand over to Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan in July. Onaodowan originated the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in the acclaimed musical, Hamilton.
Also up for the award for Best Revival of a Musical – alongside Falsettos and Miss Saigon – Hello Dolly! stars Bette Midler in the title role of strong-willed matchmaker Dolly Levi. The 71-year-old Divine Miss M, of course, has also been nominated for a Tony.
Conspicuous by its absence from the nominations list was the costly new musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The 71st annual Tony Awards, hosted by Kevin Spacey, are scheduled to be held at the Big Apple’s Radio City Music Hall on June 11.