Writer has three shows opening this fall
The words of the 83-year-old Suffern native and three-time Tony-winner (“Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”) will ring across the Theater District this fall, with revivals of “Elf” and “Annie” and a brand-new musical, “Chaplin.”
Opening Sept. 10 at The Barrymore is “Chaplin,” which tells the story of the man behind the movies. With music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis and a book by Curtis and Meehan, “Chaplin” tracks the movie icon (played by Rob McClure) from his English music-hall roots through to his last appearance at the Oscars in 1972.
There are moments that look for all the world like Chaplin films “The Kid” and “Modern Times,” but they have been painstakingly recreated, with McClure as Chaplin.
“I think Rob McClure’s work is a tour de force,” Meehan says. “(Director) Warren Carlyle asked him if he knew how to roller-skate. He learned to roller-skate in three days and came in roller-skating like a pro. After three days.”
And there he is, as Chaplin, roller-skating.
Meehan joined the project as a mentor, after seeing an early draft that starred the original Broadway Annie, Andrea McArdle, as the show’s heavy, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (now played by Jenn Colella). Soon, he was overseeing the book.
Meehan has always been a Chaplin fan, dating back to the days he watched the re-released films at Suffern’s Lafayette Theater as a kid.
“I always thought that ‘Modern Times’ was my favorite movie I’d ever seen. Part of the great research was to watch all of his films, even the early two-reelers. They’re masterful and they’re just as funny now as they ever were. And then the longer features are classic, great films.”
But there’s more to the fall than the little tramp.
Opening Nov. 8 at The Palace is “Annie,” the show that earned Meehan his first Tony, in 1977.
“You really don’t want to make too many changes,” the soft-spoken writer says. “You don’t want to disappoint the audience, like cutting ‘Tomorrow.’ The score is intact. They may have more dancing than they’ve had in the past, but it’ll have a new look.
“What we the authors thought 35 years ago was a shiny new show isn’t as shiny anymore,” he says. “It’s like having an apartment for 35 years. It needs a little renovating.”
The songs will remain, the sun will still come out tomorrow, sung by Lilla Crawford as the title character, but the staging has been reimagined by director James Lapine.
Meehan, a self-described “Democrat to the death,” feels the time is right to revive “Annie,” with its message of hope in times of trouble.
“There’s a contemporary feeling about things that have happened in the recent recession harkening back to the Great Depression,” he says. “Whether or not the White House can do anything about it is very much in the news, to say the least. We’re keeping Annie helping President Roosevelt with The New Deal. The three of us who did the show are all Democrats to the death. I think Annie’s going to fit very nicely into a new world and even though it’s 35 years old, it’s going to feel quite fresh. I have high hopes for Lapine’s direction. I think it’s going to be interesting.”
The day after “Annie” opens, “Elf” — based on the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy about Buddy the Elf and his search for his father — returns to the Hirschfeld Theater, where it premiered in 2010, for a run through the holidays. Directed by Casey Nicholaw (“Book of Mormon”) with a book by Meehan and Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”), who have made some changes along the margins, punching up the comedy in the kid-friendly show.
After “Elf,” Meehan is off to Germany, where his next musical, “Rocky,” (based on the boxing franchise) opens this fall, with Broadway in its sights.
OK, an orphan, an elf, a little tramp and a boxer from Philly meet on Broadway…