By Maddie Orton
The year was 1953. Eisenhower took office, Lucy introduced America to Little Ricky, and Can-Can made its Broadway debut. Now over 60 years later, the seldom-produced show is Broadway-bound once more. But first, Paper Mill Playhouse audiences get to give it a spin.
“These shows, you want to try them out,” says co-playwright Joel Fields. “You want to experience them with the audience, you want to see how the audience reacts and you want to get them on their feet.”
Fields is an East Brunswick native. He’s just come from his “day job” as a writer and executive producer on the FX series The Americans. He’s been working on revitalizing Can-Can for nearly 14 years.
“It’s a long, long process, and this is a critical part of that process,” says Fields.
This out-of-town tryout is especially important because most of the script has been revamped by Fields and co-playwright David Lee.
“It became a pretty interesting puzzle because the show…had some dramaturgical challenges,” Fields explains. “It had some challenges in terms of what made a hit show way back when in terms of there was a huge Garden of Eden ballet in the middle of the show.”
There was one piece of the puzzle Fields and Lee didn’t really touch: a score by Cole Porter.
“Although we didn’t want to use anything new of Cole Porter’s, we found that he wrote an incredible song called ‘Gay Paree’ which was dropped in the original Broadway production’s out-of-town tryouts,” Fields says. “And it opens the second act now.”
The company hopes audience members who do see Can-Can receive that same classic Broadway experience their counterparts had 60 years ago. Tony-Nominated actress Kate Baldwin thinks they’ve achieved that goal.
“It has the sensibility that we find funny in 2014 without sacrificing any of the classic musical theater flavor of the 1950s,” she says.
It’s too early to tell whether these revisions will give that lasting second life to Can-Can that the team hopes for, but fans like Juliet Ianniello of Woodland Park, who enjoyed seeing the original Broadway production in the ’50s, are happy to see it return.
“I think they should bring back more of these older shows because the songs are memorable, and they’re beautiful to hear, and it brings back a lot of memories,” Ianniello shares.
For Paper Mill, the world of out-of-town tryouts is nothing new. Mark S. Hoebee is producing artistic director of Paper Mill Playhouse. “We’ve had projects move to Broadway, most recently Newsies and then Honeymoon in Vegas,” he says. “But…this one has its eye right away on New York.”
It’s a winning proposition for Paper Mill. Partnering with a commercial producer means more money and creative collaboration for the project. But it’s also a win for the show and audiences.
“What we always say is: ‘See it here first before it moves,’” shares Hoebee.
Can-Can‘s next step is T.B.D. Investors need to be locked down, and a Broadway theater needs to open up. In the meantime, the cast will kick it in Millburn through late October.