In the summer of 2015, a fictional kid named Evan reaped big musical-theater rewards for Arena Stage, where the musical about him, “Dear Evan Hansen,” was born, and then would go on to New York and juggernaut status on Broadway.
Now, can a guy named Dave do the same this summer?
“Dave,” a musical version of the 1993 film comedy that starred Kevin Kline as both a callous, womanizing U.S. president and as the sweet-natured look-alike who’s installed in the Oval Office as his substitute, will have its world premiere at Arena, in a run from July 13-Aug. 19 in the company’s Kreeger Theater.
At the same time, Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith announced that two plays that had high-profile Broadway productions last year — Paula Vogel’s “Indecent,” with its Yiddish theater theme, and Ayad Akhtar’s financial-crime drama “Junk” — will be part of the company’s 2018-19 season. Eric Rosen will direct “Indecent” and Jackie Maxwell will guide “Junk,” she said.
The creative team for “Dave” — to be produced in association with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and two other commercial entities, Doshudo Productions and Larger Than Life Productions — is all Broadway veterans. The music is by Tom Kitt, of “Next to Normal” fame; the book and lyrics are by Nell Benjamin (the musical versions of “Mean Girls” and “Legally Blonde”), and the director is Tina Landau, represented on Broadway by “SpongeBob SquarePants, the Broadway Musical,” which opened to strong reviews in December. Thomas Meehan (“Annie” and “The Producers”) was working on the musical’s book before he died last summer and is credited as co-writer.
The announcement of “Dave’s” inaugural run further cements a reputation Arena is cultivating, as a summer haven for musical tryouts. Not all of them are destined to have the kind of roaring success of “Dear Evan Hansen,” which collected six Tony Awards, including best musical, last June and is still regularly selling out Broadway’s Music Box Theatre. The summer after “Dear Evan Hansen,” for example, Arena was a testing ground for “Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story,” a piece that, alas, showed far less promise.
“Dave,” for which casting has yet to be announced, is Arena’s most decidedly corporate alliance yet, as a major film studio is a principal backer. Edgar Dobie, the theater company’s executive director, said that as is customary in arrangements such as this one, the outside producers contribute financially to defray the production’s costs. “It’s our production, with enhancement money provided by Warner Brothers,” he says, adding that because the show is not included in Arena’s subscription season and no ticket revenue is available upfront, the outside producers’ contribution is “usually more than a million dollars.”
Kitt, in an interview, recounted how he’s loved “Dave” since seeing it in college. When he met with Warner Bros. executives to discuss possible projects — and his frequent writing partner Brian Yorkey created a stage version of “Freaky Friday” for Disney that premiered at Signature Theatre — he brought up the Ivan Reitman-directed comedy that also starred Sigourney Weaver.
“Whatever your beliefs are, it speaks to a romantic idea of a president,” said Kitt, whose Pulitzer-winning “Next to Normal” made a key pre-Broadway stop at Arena, and who also premiered his and Yorkey’s “If/Then” at the National Theatre.