PORTER TUNER BOWING AT KING’S HEAD
27 February 2008
’Black & White Ball’ will open 37-week season
By David Benedict
Newly refurbished off-West End venue The King’s Head theater is headlining a new 37-week, seven-show season with the world premiere of a new Cole Porter tuner.
“Black & White Ball,” a six-character, murder mystery musical with a book by Warner Brown, uses songs from the Porter catalog orchestrated by Larry Blank(“The Drowsy Chaperone”). The show, brought to the venue by producer Kim Poster, plays a six-week run including previews beginningMarch 25, ahead of an April 8 opening.
It will be followed by three further world premiere tuners and three plays including another world premiere and a U.K. premiere.
The ambitious season represents a significant move forward for the venue and its artistic director and chief executiveStephanie Sinclaire. The venue has struggled in recent years following grant withdrawals and difficulties with its old-fashioned auditorium, which was formerly London’s only dinner-theater. Refurbishment has increased capacity from 112 to 135.
Steven M. Levy (formerly of Broadway management company Soloway/Levy) has joined as executive producer to co-create, structure and finance the work. Echoing the recently announced “Donmar in the West End” season, they have made the venue a subscription house – a rarity for London.
To fund the program, Levy has created a consortium spreading the risk across the season, rather than having each show separately produced, as in the past.
Levy told Daily Variety that the season would have a top ticket price of £20 (about $40), and was budgeted overall at $900,000 to cover up-front production costs and running expenses plus a contingency fund.
“Those figures, with a 50% break-even for plays and a figure slightly higher for musicals, allow for the investment to be earned back and to make a return. If any of the productions transfer, so much the better, but the budget is not dependent upon it,” Levy said.
Other shows in the season are Betwixt, a comic fantasy musical with book, music and lyrics by Ian McFarlane (previews beginningMay 6), and Grand Slam, a new comedy by critic-turned-playwright Lloyd Evans about a British tennis player and an unscrupulous bodyguard (previews June 24).
Sinclaire also will stage The Shadow Master, her own screenplay adapted from J.M. Barrie’s tragic-comedy “Dear Brutus” — which she then plans to film as an independent feature.
Cherry Docs, a drama about a Jewish lawyer defending a skinhead by Canadian playwright David Gow, receives its U.K. preem in September, followed by Street Magic (with book and direction by Lisa Forrell and music and lyrics by Brett Kahr), a rite-of-passage tale of the young daughter of a Brixton brothel owner from Jamaica.
The final world premiere of the season is an archive discovery. Godiva, music by Vivian Ellis, book and lyrics by Guy Bolton, is a comedy about the medieval lady who famously rode naked through the streets. Successive revivals in 1983 and 1993 of Ellis’s 1920s tuner “Mr. Cinders” gave the King’s Head its greatest hits.