EXCLUSIVE: Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly, a campy, politically charged musical revue that was a two-year off-Broadway hit in the late 1990s, will be revived this fall with a Hollywood star on board, if not on the boards: Cher, Liza, Carol and Barbie favorite Bob Mackie will design the clothes for the show that was conceived by Crabtree and Mark Waldrop, with book and lyrics by Mark Waldrop and music by Dick Gallagher.
I’m told that producer Joshua Goodman, whose Broadway credits include Come From Away and Rocky, will mount the revival at the Shubert Organization’s Stage 42, with previews beginning October 6 and opening night set for October 30. Waldrop will direct, with choreography by Denis Jones (Holiday Inn).
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The Mackie connection is a poignant one. The show stars a character named Howard (Jordan Ahnquist, Shear Madness), not unlike Crabtree, a former dancer and wardrobe designer who died of AIDS shortly before the show opened in 1996 at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre. In a hastily booked theater under renovation, Howard struggles to put on a lavish musical revue while facing down numerous obstacles, including the near-mutiny of his cast and the nagging memory of his high school guidance counselor, who told him he’d succeed “when pigs fly.” Just when it seems all is lost, Howard realizes the problem isn’t that he’s gone too far — it’s that he hasn’t gone far enough.
The late New York Times critic Vincent Canby, a novelist and playwright who had given up his post as chief film critic and was reviewing theater during his final years at the paper, loved the show, calling it “an exceptionally cheerful, militantly gay new musical revue that comes close to living up to its own billing, ‘the side-splitting musical extravaganza.’ No sides are ever in serious danger of splitting. Yet there’s enough hilarity, wit and outré humor here to evoke that era, more than 40 years ago, when bright, irreverent revues were as commonplace on Broadway as today’s stately Cameron Mackintosh spectacles.”
Crabtree had begun creating outlandish costumes for friends while working in the wardrobe department at Broadway’s original production of La Cage aux Folles, where he met cast member Waldrop, his future collaborator and director for several Off-Broadway musicals showcasing Crabtree’s designs. Crabtree embraced Mackie’s aesthetic, equal parts glamour and whimsy, a staple of The Carol Burnett Show that earned him nine Emmys. Mackie’s last NYC venture was 2010’s Viagara Falls, a flop that played this same theater.
In addition to Ahnquist, the cast includes Taylor Crousure (Forbidden Broadway: Comes Out Swinging!), Jacob Hoffman (I’ll Be Damned), Brian Charles Rooney (Bedbugs!!!) and Frank Viveros (The Phantom of the Opera). Additional design and production team includes Adam Koch (sets), Julie Duro (lighting), Ian Wehrle (sound), Ed Goldschneider (music director) and Jay Binder, CSA/Justin Bohon (casting).
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