EXCLUSIVE: One of the coming season’s most hotly anticipated projects – a collaboration among composer John Kander, director-choreographer Susan Stroman and writer David Thompson – has landed a perch. The Beast in the Jungle, a dance-centered musical drawn from the 1903 Henry James novella of the same name, will open off-Broadway in spring, 2018 at the Vineyard Theatre. The venue, one the most prolific and highly regarded nonprofits in the country, presented The Scottsboro Boys, the trio’s earlier collaboration (which included Kander’s longtime writing partner Fred Ebb) and a major critical triumph, in 2010 before moving to Broadway, where, despite a brief run, it was nominated for 12 Tony Awards.
The new show is described as “a powerful and romantic tale of love and loss about John Marcher, a man haunted by personal demons, whose great yet unfulfilled love affair with an unforgettable woman spans decades and continents.” Fearing that his death is imminent, Marcher spends his life in a state of unrequited love for May Bartam. While the show features a script with scenes and dialogue by Thompson, Kander’s waltz-driven score is music only, without lyrics. The storytelling happens through both dialogue and dance in the style of both classical ballet and modern dance.
By those criteria, the show resembles, in part, Contact, the dance-driven 2000 Tony winner staged by Stroman (The Producers, Bullets Over Broadway).
“It is a great joy and privilege to reunite with this remarkable creative team following our work together with them on The Scottsboro Boys,” Vineyard artistic directors Douglas Aibel and Sarah Stern told Deadline. “With The Beast in the Jungle, they are building on their collaboration to push the boundaries of the music-theater form, integrating a psychologically rich story with dazzling choreography and a glorious instrumental score. We can’t wait to share it with New York audiences.”
Kander and Ebb wrote some of the most celebrated musicals in the Broadway canon, notably Cabaret and Chicago; Scottsboro Boys was one of their final projects before Ebb’s death in 2004. Thompson, an author and journalist, previously collaborated with both Kander and Stroman on numerous projects separately and together, including the Kander & Ebb revue And The World Goes ‘Round, the long-running Broadway revival of Chicago and Stroman’s Thou Shalt Not.
Additional shows for The Vineyard’s 2017-2018 season will be announced at a later date. The company concludes its current season this spring with the New York premiere of Gina Gionfriddo’s Can You Forgive Her?, directed by Peter DuBois, beginning previews May 4. Indecent, which opened at the Vineyard and transferred to Broadway this season, is a likely candidate for multiple Tony Award nominations, which will be announced tomorrow morning.