Broadway-bound 'First Wives Club' premieres in Chicago
Talk about pedigree.
"First Wives Club" -- the new Broadway-bound musical beginning previews Tuesday at Chicago's Oriental Theatre -- has an impressive one.
Let's start with the source. The 1996 film starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler earned more than $105 million domestically, making it the 11th highest-grossing film that year.
After 19 years, it remains to be seen if that kind of success will bode well for a screen-to-stage transfer. Still, patrons are more inclined to buy tickets to a show with which they're at least somewhat familiar, making "First Wives Club" a safer bet for backers looking to recoup their investment, which for a musical could top $10 million. ("First Wives" producers declined to comment on production costs.)
Then there's the premise: Three middle-aged women -- played by Tony Award-winner Faith Prince, Jeff Award winner Christine Sherrill, and West End veteran and Jeff nominee Carmen Cusack -- team up to turn the tables on their philandering husbands and discover together they have the strength to face the next phase of their lives.
Emmy-nominated television writer/producer Linda Bloodworth Thomason ("Designing Women," "Evening Shade") wrote the book for the show, which will surely resonate with audience members of a certain age and gender.
So will the music by celebrated Motown songwriters Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. Producers lured the trio -- responsible for such 1960s hits as "Heat Wave," "Where Did Our Love Go?" and "Reach Out I'll Be There" -- out of retirement to compose the score, which features more than a dozen new tunes along with several H-D-H classics.
After a lifetime spent writing R&B and pop hits, Eddie Holland jumped at the chance to compose a musical.
"I was hoping they (Dozier and his brother) would be as excited as I was," he said of the project, which he described as the next step in their careers during a December news conference in Chicago.
"Musicals have always been a lot more interesting to Lamont, Brian and myself. We grew up on musicals," he said. "I've been writing for how many years trying to create an image of the singer that's supposed to be projected. To do it with a play, with a musical, is the ultimate."
"Uncharted territory, that's what a musical is ... The next challenge is the uncharted territory," Dozier said.
"You don't want to go back," added Brian Holland, "You want to go forward."
The invitation to work on a musical proved irresistible, but challenging. The tunesmiths recalled laboring over songs -- about 35 in total -- only to see half of them cut from the show.
"These Broadway people are crazy," Eddie Holland said with affection.
Just when you think everything's perfect, somebody makes a change, he said.
"You have to constantly expect the unexpected," he said. "And you have to develop the temperament and discipline to wade through it."
Simon Phillips ("Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"), the gregarious Australian director who helms the world premiere, sympathized.
"Everything they write is good, the same with the book," said Phillips during a second news conference earlier this month at the Oriental Theatre.
"Anything we cut is going to be wonderful," he said. "But it's not whether it's wonderful, it's whether it's appropriate."
The songwriting, however, came easy, said Dozier. Even after years apart, their muse remained.
"Once we got in the room, the magic appeared again," he said, laughing. "We just had more of it to do."
"First Wives Club"Location: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: Previews begin Tuesday, Feb. 17. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (additional 2 p.m. performances on March 18 and 25), 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday (no evening performance on March 22 and 29). Runs through March 29.