The Heights Players’ 47th season contains
many traditional favorites and a few surprises. Musicals are
represented by "The Fantasticks," "Camelot"
and "My Fair Lady"; drama by "Picnic" and
"Sweet Bird of Youth"; and comedy by "Come Blow
Your Horn" and "Heaven Can Wait."
For the first time in many years, there will be no Agatha Christie in the Heights Players season. Instead, the Players will present Elihu Winer’s "Anatomy of a Murder." Another interesting choice is "I Remember Mama," which for many, is best known in its television incarnation.
The season begins with "Anatomy of a Murder" (Sept. 6-22) directed by Jim McNulty. The mystery thriller involves a rookie lawyer charged with the defense of a lieutenant accused of murdering a bartender who allegedly raped his wife.
The 1959 film was directed by Otto Preminger, with a score by Duke Ellington and a stellar cast that included James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell and Eve Arden. Its frank discussion of contraception, pink panties and rape shocked audiences of the time. Only the onslaught of "Ben-Hur" kept it from picking up several Academy Awards.
Long-running legend "The Fantasticks," directed by Steve Velardi follows (Oct 4-20). Based on Edmond Rostand’s "Les Romanesques," with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, the play opened on a shoestring budget May 3, 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse and went on to make theatrical history for more than three decades.
The play tells the whimsical story of young lovers whose innocent view of love is tempered by the vicissitudes of life and eventually transformed into the mature, sustaining love of adulthood.
"Picnic," the Heights Players’ third production, directed by John Bourne, deals with a familiar theme of playwright William Inge - the unfulfilled dreams of Midwestern women living in sleepy, rural towns. It opened Feb. 19, 1953 at the Theatre Guild where it ran for 477 performances; was adapted for the screen by Joshua Logan (who directed the play) in 1956; and was revived by the Roundabout in 1994.
The play is a psychological drama about a virile young drifter who wanders into a Kansas town one Labor Day and wins the hearts of many local ladies, including Madge Owens, the fiance of an old friend.
Bourne, whom the late composer and theater critic Clark Gesner once dubbed "Mr. Agatha Christie," said he deliberately "decided to take the year off from Christie," and asked to do this realistic drama. "Picnic" will run Nov. 1-17.
"Camelot," which opened Dec. 3, 1960, was Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s attempt to repeat the success of "My Fair Lady" (1956). It again featured Julie Andrews playing opposite a non-singing British actor, this time not Rex Harrison but Welshman Richard Burton.
Loewe retired after "Camelot," ending the successful partnership. But this adaptation of T.H. White’s "The Once and Future King" has been frequently revived, and this season the Heights Players will bring the musical to life again, under the direction of Ed Healy, Dec. 6-22.
"Sweet Bird of Youth," Tennessee Williams’ classic Southern Gothic work about an aging Hollywood actress and the young stud who takes advantage of her need to cling to her fading youth, is the Heights Players’ next production.
The play began life as a one-act work-in-progress at the Studio M. Playhouse in Miami in 1956; was subsequently revised and expanded for its New York premiere, directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Geraldine Page and Paul Newman; and was turned into a somewhat castrated film version that conformed to the Production Code in 1962. Robert J. Weinstein directs this seething drama for the Heights Players (Jan. 10-26).
"’Come Blow Your Horn’ is a little different than our usual productions," Players member-at-large Bourne told GO Brooklyn. That’s because despite being Neil Simon’s first Broadway hit, "Come Blow Your Horn" is best known for the Norman Lear-adapted film.
Although the cast included such luminaries as Lee J. Cobb, Molly Picon and Dean Martin, the film was mostly a vehicle for Frank Sinatra, who plays the flamboyant Alan Baker. The plot revolves around what happens when Alan’s younger brother, Buddy, moves in and attempts to emulate his profligate sibling. Ellen Weinstein-Pittari directs (Feb. 7-23).
"I Remember Mama" has the distinction of being a play, a movie and a television series. All versions are based on Kathryn Forbes’s autobiographical short stories collected in "Mama’s Bank Account." The stories portray a family of struggling Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco at the turn of the century.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein brought John van Druten’s play, based on the stories, to the Music Box Theatre where it opened Oct. 19, 1944 starring Mady Christians and a young Marlon Brando.
In the 1948 film version, Irene Dunne took the role of Mama. Peggy Wood starred as Mama in the 1946-1957 television series. Ted Thompson directs this revival of van Druten’s play (March 7-23).
In one more instance of Hollywood recycling, Warren Beatty’s "Heaven Can Wait" (1978) was a remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," a 1941 fantasy about Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), an up-and-coming prize fighter whose life and career go down with his single-engine plane. When it turns out that he was actually supposed to live another 50 years and become world heavyweight champion, Mr. Jordan, a heavenly supervisor, attempts to find Joe another body.
In Beatty’s version, Pendleton becomes a Los Angeles Rams quarterback who dies prematurely in an auto accident, and Mr. Jordan finds a replacement body in a murdered industrialist.
Both films are based on Harry Segall’s comic play also titled "Heaven Can Wait." According to Bourne, the Heights Players will be presenting a version more closely related to the original play and the 1941 movie. Unlike Beatty, who produced, directed and starred in his remake, Bill Wood will only direct (April 4-20).
The season ends with another Lerner and Loewe musical, nine-time Tony Award-winner "My Fair Lady." Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s "Pygmalion," the musical opened March 15, 1956 and ran for a then-record-breaking 2,717 performances. Revivals in 1976, 1981 and 1993 and a 1964 film followed.
Thomas N. Tyler directs this story of a Cockney flower girl who is turned into a sophisticated lady by a phonetics expert (May 2-18).
Whether you like romance, fantasy or hard-hitting realistic drama, undoubtedly something in this upcoming season will send you to the Heights Players’ box office.
The Heights Players season runs Sept. 6, 2002 through May 18, 2003. Performances take place at 26 Willow Place at State Street in Brooklyn Heights. For more information, call (718) 237-2752.