Two legendary figures in American show business -- d irector George Abbott and choreographer George Balanchine--have agreed to stage a revival of the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical "On Your Toes" for the Kennedy Center, the Center's chairman, Roger L. Stevens, said yesterday.
The production, which will have a six-week run in the Eisenhower Theater beginning in early December, is the pilot project for what the Center hopes will become a series of musical revivals, employing, whenever possible, the services of the shows' creators. Abbott, 95, directed the original Broadway production of "On Your Toes" and wrote the book. Balanchine, 78, contributed the choreography, which included the now-legendary "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" ballet.
The Center also has obtained a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which will allow Hans Spialek, one of the most prolific Broadway orchestrators in the 1920s and '30s, to restore his original orchestrations of the Rodgers and Hart score, which contains the hit ballad "There's a Small Hotel."
Although "On Your Toes" was revived in New York in 1954 with Bobby Van and Vera Zorina, the idea behind the Kennedy Center production--and any future revivals--is to reproduce as closely as possible the dimensions and texture of the show as it first appeared. "Unlike opera, the first thing that was thrown out in those days were the orchestrations," said John Mauceri, consultant for the musical theater at the Center. "If the show was subsequently revived, the score was usually reorchestrated to fit the times, so that it didn't seem old-fashioned. Often, new songs were introduced and the books were rewritten. If you've seen a production of 'Pal Joey,' for example, since 1950, it's unlikely that you've seen the original show. What we want to do with 'On Your Toes' is reestablish the style, the sound, the speed and feel of a 1930s musical. Linking up with the very creators is very important."
The 1936 production of "Toes" starred Ray Bolger as a professor of music who helps a beleaguered Russian ballet troupe get back on its feet by mounting a jazz ballet, and ends up dancing with the company when the male lead fails to appear. Tamara Geva costarred as the prima ballerina. Casting for the Kennedy Center production will take place in September, with rehearsals beginning the following month. Stevens said the work is being mounted for Washington only, although he did not rule out the possibility of a tour or a Broadway engagement after the local run. Sets and costumes will be designed by Zack Brown, who has frequently performed similar chores for the Washington Opera Society.
Among the other vintage musicals that the Kennedy Center is considering for the series, according to Mauceri, are "Girl Crazy," "Anything Goes," "The Boys From Syracuse" and "Pal Joey." "No one has produced these shows as they were originally written," he said. "But you can't just go out and put them on. A lot of the work is archival--retrieving material that has been lost."
Abbott's most recent Broadway credit was his direction of the musical "Music Is," which tried out at the Center in 1976. Balanchine last created original choreography for the Broadway musical theater in the short-lived, 1951 musical "Courtin' Time." According to Mauceri, Balanchine telephoned Abbott at his home in Florida and said, "I hear you're going to do 'On Your Toes.' Let's do it together."