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The Glorious Corner

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Des McAnuff

By G. H. Harding

Des McAnuff

TOMMY CAN YOU HEAR ME —(Via San Diego Union-Tribune) Of all the memories that swirl around in Des McAnuff’s mind when he talks about The Who’s Tommy, one recollection in particular rises above the rest.

The date was April 22, 1993, and the director and then-La Jolla Playhouse artistic chief was at the St. James Theatre in Manhattan for the Broadway opening of the Playhouse-bred rock opera.

“I got this call backstage, as I was standing in the wings,” McAnuff recalls now.

On the line: Pete Townshend, the Who guitarist and principal composer of the 1969 Tommy album upon which the musical was based, as well as McAnuff’s close collaborator on the show.

“He said, ‘This is just a love call,’” McAnuff says of Townshend, who had been in the audience for the performance. “He said: ‘I just want to thank you. You’ve helped me create my renaissance.”

“It was such a beautiful moment in my life.”

More than a quarter-century later, McAnuff and Townshend revisited some of that Tommy glory, as the Playhouse Monday night held a benefit concert performance of the musical that was birthed at the theater originally in 1992.

The event reunited a big contingent of original cast members from the Playhouse and New York productions, including the Broadway stars Michael Cerveris (as the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” turned pinball wizard of the title), Alice Ripley and Christian Hoff, along with Jonathan Dokuchitz, Cheryl Freeman, Paul Kandel, Donnie Kehr, Norm Lewis, Michael McElroy and Lee Morgan.

Donnie Kehr

Tommy has stayed close to McAnuff’s heart over the years, even through such seismic events as the massive Broadway success of the Playhouse-bred Jersey Boys and the director’s subsequent move to Canada’s Stratford Festival as artistic chief, where he stayed until 2012 (and where he returned to stage Tommy the following year, with Nolan in the cast).

He and Townshend, who co-wrote the musical’s book, have likewise stayed close. (Both won Tony Awards for their work on the show.)

“I still see him all the time,” McAnuff says of the rocker. “He’s the best. He’s wondrously generous — not only a great artist but a terrific collaborator.”

McAnuff adds with a laugh: “I asked him what makes him such a great collaborator, and he said: “Surviving The Who!”

For McAnuff, “Tommy” became a major inspiration and influence early on in life.

He had just turned 17 and was in a budding rock band when, at the close of a basement rehearsal session one day, a friend who handled the group’s sound said: “I’ve got this new Who album.”

As McAnuff recalls it: “We were intending to sit down and listen to just a couple of cuts. And we stayed there, all of us, and listened to the whole thing. I think it had a huge effect on me.

“I think, more importantly, the imagery that was in my head made it into the show. I think my concept of the show started with that listening.

“I wrote my first musical fairly soon after that — I would’ve been about 18 — and that was very much influenced by Tommy and also by Hair (which he’d auditioned for at one point). I realized rock music could have a place on stage.”

And when that early musical of McAnuff’s, called Urbania, was produced not long after in Toronto, he recalls with some pride that a prominent local critic wrote: “It’s sometimes reminiscent of The Who’s Tommy.”

Fast forward a couple of decades to July 1991, when McAnuff — who had ignited the Playhouse’s stunning revival eight years earlier, and won a Tony award for directing the La Jolla-bred musical Big River on Broadway — was living in an ocean-view apartment near Windansea Beach in La Jolla.

A call came in from Michael David, one of McAnuff’s partners in the powerhouse producing outfit The Dodgers, who said he wanted to come visit and talk about a project.

“So he came to that beautiful apartment and he said: ‘How would you like to do Tommy?

McAnuff recalls that a contemporary had said of the rock opera: “Nobody could do it onstage the way The Who could do it.”

But McAnuff was hooked on the idea of staging it: “I said to the staff at the Playhouse, ‘He’s completely wrong. We could do that. We could blow the roof off the place.”

That November, McAnuff flew out to meet Townshend in London. Their first encounter was “one of those meetings where there were a lot of managers and other people around. Pete and I were seated together, and we had probably a 10-minute conversation. I had been listening to Tommy over and over in the car but didn’t want to commit to any ideas until I met with him.”

McAnuff then spent the rest of that day (and night) mapping out a detailed vision for the piece. And the following evening, he and Townshend had an intense, one-on-one meeting: “We spent about four hours talking, literally until the wee hours of the morning.

“It was such an inspiring conversation, as you would expect.” And at one point, McAnuff recalls, Townshend stood up and demonstrated how he did a “windmill” — his trademark, straight-armed, legs-splayed strum on the electric guitar.

Says McAnuff: “Here’s somebody who does this for 25,000 people, and he’s doing it for me.”

The Playhouse concert took place in all of the music from Tommy, although it will be presented in a stripped-down form compared with the stage musical, whose use of tech wizardry was groundbreaking for its time.

“We’re crazy enough to attempt to play the entire score,” says McAnuff. “But I want to stress this is a concert. There’s no way in four days (of prep) that we could do it. We could barely stage that show in the seven weeks we spent putting it together in La Jolla. It was a very ambitious piece.

“This is going to be actors at microphones. It’s about hearing Tommy more than seeing it.”

But for fans of the band, the album and the much-loved musical, that just might be plenty.

Fifty Years Ago 

FIFTY YEARS AGO — Last column we told you about the Fifty Years Ago tour-stop at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Stamford, but we also attended last -stop at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Stamford, but we also attended last Thursday’s stop at the beautiful St. George Theater in Staten Island and in Long Island last Saturday night.

Built in 1929, the St. George is simply gorgeous … along the lines of NYC’s Beacon Theater. We actually got there quite easily from lower Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry – which we found out is free – and once there, the theater was a quick five-minute walk. We immediately came upon tour manager Geoff Perren, who couldn’t have been nicer. We met the veteran-tour manager in Stamford and he guided us throughout the cavernous space.

We were invited into the dining area for the entire band and sat with Dolenz-guitarist Wayne Avers. I’ve known Wayne for years and watching him during this show is just sensational. As we mentioned, his solo on Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4″ is just brilliant; but tonight we closely watched his solos –with Todd Rundgren- on Todd’s own “I Saw The Light,” as well as Rudgren’s take on “Helter Skelter,” where Avers used a slide on his guitar.

This show, this night, was just perfect. The sound was as good as we ever heard and you could feel the entire band in sync and firing on all cylinders. The set was essentially the same as as the Ridgefield, but flowed just perfect. Christoper Cross’ guitar work was just spot-on and, his two solo numbers, “Sailing” and “Ride Like The Wind” were definite show highlights.

Dolenz, with his voice sounding better than ever, was just exceptional on “I’m So Tired” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” on both shows and  Badfinger’s Joey Molland was in tip-top shape as well with his work on “No Matter What” and the standout “Baby Blue” for both shows.

Rundgren, who was just announced as a nominee for this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, was exceptional too, especially his guitar work “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Bassist Jason Scheff, who has a solo album in the works, was terrific as well; especially when he joined in with Cross.

Seen in the aisles were Getty-photographer Bobby Bank; Rudgren-bassist Kasim Sulton; the voice of the Beach Boys Jeffrey Foskett; Broadway Records’ Van Dean; and Dolenz’s PR-man David Salidor. Just Both shows, just exceptional.

Read Markos Papdatos’ review from Digital Journalhttp://www.digitaljournal.com/entertainment/music/review-beatles-music-is-alive-and-well-at-westbury-on-long-island/article/559683?fbclid=IwAR2YC3PwoWuLZNjNmeVnK42Ev9gps1l9MwVopD09L-cR-ZhIAWyqdHTv-vo 

VAN HALEN UPDATE — According to recent rumors, Van Halen’s legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen has been battling with throat cancer for a while, and he’s currently treated for that reason. But there’s no official announcement about the rumors that we’ve been reading for the last three or four days.

Earlier this week, Alternative Nation has shared a new update about Eddie Van Halen’s health status from a former relative of him. Eddie’s ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli’s brother, David Bertinelli has some details about the rumors. Here’s what he said to AN:

“I spoke to Ed less than 2 weeks ago and he sounded good; the same as I have known for over 30 years.

He also sent me a text Thursday thanking my son for the Thank You picture he had drawn for a guitar Ed donated to the school.”

SHORT TAKES — Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam plays this Friday at The Groove in lower-Manhattan … Whatever happened to the Gene Cornish book Good Lovin’ -My Life As A Rascal?  CBS-FM’s Scott Shannon read it and said it was a superior read; we can’t wait to see it … We’re still wait for a copy of Robbie Robertson’s new albumSinematic from Universal’s Sujata Murthy. Even a call to head-honcho Monte Lippman has proved fruitless. Sad, I hear it’s excellent … I’m seeing ads from Harvey Fierstein tub thumping his next Broadway-project Bella Bella (at City Center); yes, on legendary NY-politico Bella Abzug … wow …

Zoe Kravitz

Zoe Kravitz will be Catwoman in the upcoming Matt Reeves The Batman. Kudos … 

Kjersti Long

Broadway Records wunderkind Kjersti Long taped Zach Martin’s Big Fat American Podcast yesterday; with PR-man David Salidor and her father Jeremy in tow …

Elton John, Joni Mitchell

Monday night in Hollywood, Brandi Carlisle performed the entire Joni Mitchell-album Blue. Reports were, it was amazing. Elton John appeared and met up with Mitchell who appeared … Wendy Stuart Kaplan’s film, Rainbow Ending, unspools in the Chelsea Film Festival, this Friday … and, Happy Bday Markos Papadatos!

NAMES IN THE NEWS — Roger Friedman; Larry King; Geoff Perren; Billy Jaymes; Randy Alexander; Howard Bloom; Isa Langsam; Carol Ross; Jason Elzy; Marion Perkins; Magda Katz; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Eric Gardner; and, Ziggy!

G. H. Harding is a four decades insider to the entertainment world. He’s worked for record companies; movie companies; video-production He’s worked for record companies; movie companies; video-production companies and several cable outlets. His anonymity is essential in bringing an unbiased view to his writings on pop culture. He is based in NYC.

Broadway

Broadway in Bryant Park And You Are There With Hell’s Kitchen, Water For Elephants, The Wiz and More

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July 11, 106.7 LITE FM’s Broadway in Bryant Park kicked off its 2024 program, bringing the best of Broadway back together for free performances, every Thursday in July.

From AMDA College of the Performing Arts-Kyle Taylor Parker

From AMDA College of the Performing Arts-Kyle Taylor Parker, Charity Arianna , Destiny David, Ailadis Hernandez De Leon, Nyjair Wilkerson and Jackson Bateman

This week’s performances included: a preshow featuring students from AMDA

Ali Louis Bourzgui

Bobby Conte and Ali Louis Bourzgui

Bobby Conte, Ali Louis Bourzgui and Adam Jacobs

Ali Louis Bourzgui, Bobby Conte,

Lily Kren, Alexandra Matteo, Daniel Quadrino, Jenna Nicole Schoen, Nathan Lucrezio, Reagan Pender, Bobby Conte, Tyler James Eisenreich, Mark Mitrano, Haley Gustafson, Afra Hines, Dee Tomasetta, Adam Jacobs, Ali Louis Bourzgui, David Paul Kidder, Jeremiah Alsop, Andrew Tufano and Ronnie Bowman, Jr.

The Who’s Tommy (Ali Louis Bourzgui, Adam Jacobs, Bobby Conte, Haley Gustafson and more)

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Ken Wulf Clark

Joe De Paul and Asa Somers

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Isabelle McCalla and Ken Wulf Clark

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Sara Gettelfinger

Ken Wulf Clark, Sara Gettelfinger, Joe De Paul and Asa Somers

Ken Wulf Clark, Sara Gettelfinger, Joe De Paul and Asa Somers

Ken Wulf Clark, Joe De Paul, Asa Somers and Isabella McCalla

Water for Elephants (Isabelle McCalla, Ken Wulf Clark, Asa Somers, Sara Gettelfinger, Joe De Paul)

Avery Wilson

Kyle Ramar Freeman and Nichelle Lewis

Kyle Ramar Freeman

Kyle Ramar Freeman

Melody A. Betts

Kyle Ramar Freeman

Nichelle Lewis

Nichelle Lewis, Kyle Ramar Freeman, Avery Wilson and Polanco Jones Jr.

Kyle Ramar Freeman, Avery Wilson and Polanco Jones Jr.

Kyle Ramar Freeman, Polanco Jones Jr., Nichelle Lewis, Melody A. Betts and Avery Wilson

The Wiz (Avery Wilson, Kyle Ramar Freeman, Melody A. Betts, Nichelle Lewis, Polanco Jones Jr.)

Jelani Remy

JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith and JJ Niemann

Jelani Remy and JJ Niemann

Jelani Remy and JJ Niemann

Jelani Remy and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith, Katie Laduca, JJ Niemann and Aaron Alcaraz

Hannah Kevitt and JJ Niemann

Evan Alexander Smith, JJ Niemann, Jelani Remy and The Cast of Back To The Future that includes Hannah Kevitt, Cixtoria Byrd, Kimberly Immanuel, Jessie Peltier, Gregory Carl Banks Jr., Katie Laduca, Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson and Aaron Alcaraz

Evan Alexander Smith, JJ Niemann, Jelani Remy, Hannah Kevitt, Cixtoria Byrd, Kimberly Immanuel, Jessie Peltier, Gregory Carl Banks Jr., Katie Laduca, Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson and Aaron Alcaraz

Back to the Future (Jelani Remy, JJ Niemann, Evan Alexander Smith)

Gianna Harris and Lamont Walker II

Lamont Walker II

Jade Milan, Jackie Leon and Gianna Harris

Jade Milan, Jackie Leon and Gianna Harris

Donna Vivino

Donna Vivino

Donna Vivino, Gianna Harris, Lamont Walker II, Jade Milan and Jackie Leon and Jackie Leon

and Hell’s Kitchen (Gianna Harris, Vanessa Ferguson, Jackie Leon, Donna Vivino, Lamont Walker II)

106.7 Lite FM’s Helen Little

106.7 Lite FM’s Helen Little is joined by Co Host Kyle Ramar Freeman

with host Helen Little and co-host Kyle Ramar Freeman.

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Broadway

Get Ready For Broadway in Bryant Park

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The most popular shows on and off Broadway will perform their biggest hits in the park starting this Thursday the 11th! Head to the the lawn at Bryant Park and enjoy Broadway for lunch. The performances will happen on four summer Thursdays, hosted and presented by LiteFM.

This week from 12:30pm-1:30pm 106.7 LITE FM Host: Helen Little will host. For the pre-show: A special performance by the students of AMDA College of the Performing Arts. Then get ready for performances by Back to the Future, Hell’s Kitchen, The Who’s TOMMY, The Wiz and
Water For Elephants.

In coming weeks look from The Outsiders, SIX: The Musical, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Wicked, Chicago and & Juliet.

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Ken Fallin’s Broadway:​ Happy Birthday Audra McDonald

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On July 3rd, Audra McDonald celebrated her 54th birthday. The 1970 American Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning theatrical and operatic singer, and stage and screen actress (Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill; Sweeney Todd; Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny; TV Private Practice, The Good Wife), was born in West Berlin, West Germany (now Berlin, Germany)

As been announced six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will return to Broadway this fall, as Mama Rose in Gypsy.

Performances begin Thursday, November 21st, at Broadway’s newly renovated Majestic Theatre. Happy Thanksgiving! The show will open on Thursday, December 19th. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

The last show to play the Majestic Theatre was The Phantom of the Opera, which concluded its 35 year-run on April 16, 2023.

This upcoming revival will be directed by the legendary five-time Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe. The choreography will be by four-time Tony Award nominated Camille A. Brown.  Additional casting and creative team members will be announced at a later date.

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Coming In August Broadway Barks Returns to Shubert Alley

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The 26th anniversary of the star-studded dog and cat adoption event, Broadway Barks returns to Shubert Alley on Saturday, August 3, 2024 to benefit New York City animal rescue groups. The event, co-founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore, features Broadway celebrities who use their star power to help find loving homes for animals in need from 24 NYC area adoption and rescue groups.

Bernadette Peters and Sutton Foster. Photo courtesy of Broadway Barks.

Bernadette Peters and Sutton Foster will co-host this year’s festivities! Other celebrity participants to be announced soon.

Photo by Daniel Roberts, © Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Barks begins at 3pm with a ‘meet and greet’ of all the adoptable pets; from 5–6:30pm, adoptees make their Broadway debut on stage alongside some of Broadway’s favorite stars for the celebrity presentations.Produced by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the adoption event takes place in Shubert Alley (located between 44th and 45th Streets, between Broadway and Eighth Avenues).

Photo by Daniel Roberts, © Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

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Shows to Keep Your Eyes On: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Death Becomes Her and The Queen of Versailles

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The new musical Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is based on John Berendt’s 1994 non-fiction book and makes its world premiere this summer at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. The book is by  Taylor Mac and music and lyrics by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown, performances are scheduled for June 25–August 4 in the Albert Theatre. Tony winner Rob Ashford will direct the production with choreography by Tanya Birl.

Tony winner J. Harrison Ghee, is The Lady Chablis; Tony nominee Tom Hewitt as Jim Williams; and Olivier nominee Sierra Boggess as Emma Dawes.

The company also includes Lance Roberts (The Best Man) as Bobby Lewis, Austin Colby (The Great Gatsby) as Danny Hansford, Bailee Endebrock (Parade) as Corrine Strong, Shanel Bailey (The Book of Mormon) as Lavella Cole, Jessica Molaskey (Sunday in the Park with George) as Alma Knox Carter, Brianna Buckley (the ripple, the wave that carried me home) as Minerva, Mary Ernster (War Paint) as Serena Barnes/Dawn Avery, McKinley Carter (Turn of the Century) as Vera Strong, Maya Bowles (The Wiz) as Stacey Brown, DeMarius Copes (Some Like It Hot) as Jeremiah Jones, Sean Donovan as Luther Driggers, Jason Michael Evans (Anastasia tour) as Colonel Atwood/Burt, Christopher Kelley as Bubbles/Gregory, Andre Terrell Malcolm (Hamilton tour) as Josiah Domingo, Aaron James McKenzie (A Beautiful Noise) as Jethro Myles, Wes Olivier as Jack the One-Eyed Jill, Kayla Marie Shipman as Millicent/Mary, and Rory Shirley as Stefanie Davis.

The show tracks an antiques dealer through four trials for murdering a male prostitute in Savannah, Georgia. The story is modeled on the real-life shooting of Daniel Lewis  Hansford. The work won the 1995 Boeke Prize and was a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. A film adaptation was released in 1997 starring John Cusack and Kevin Spacey.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a seminal book for me as a young queer person, coming out in the late 1980s and early ’90s,” added Mac. “The eccentricities of Savannah, and how they were celebrated by such a large readership, seemed to say, the things that made me odd and an outcast in the world were actually things I should cherish. Likewise, musical theatre has always had a similar effect on me. Singing our thoughts is such an eccentric way of expressing ourselves—yet so perfectly aligned with my personal liberation and joy. So turning Midnight into a musical, and with such master craftspeople as Jason, Rob, and Tanya is essentially an extension of celebrating the joy and liberation from exposing what’s hidden.”

“When I am deciding to start a new show, the two most important questions I ask myself are: 1) Does it sing? and 2) Do I get to work with fun people? With Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I knew the answers to both questions immediately,” stated Brown. “The book’s milieu, so rich with mystery and romance and history, sings with every sentence, deeply passionate, slyly comic, emotions threatening to boil over on every page. And to work with Rob Ashford, whose transformative production of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in 2007 reinvigorated not only the show’s reputation but my creative process, was a no-brainer. But then add to that the brilliant, joyful, radically inclusive mind of Taylor Mac, and there was no way I could resist. Creating this world with these mad geniuses is, in true Savannah tradition, a grand and great party. I can’t wait for the world to join in.”

Madeline Ashton (Tony Award® nominees Megan Hilty (Wicked, “Smash”)) is the most beautiful actress (just ask her) ever to grace the stage and screen. Helen Sharp (Jennifer Simard (Company, Disaster!)) is the long-suffering author (just ask her) who lives in her shadow. They have always been the best of frenemies…until Madeline steals Helen’s fiancé (Christopher Sieber (Spamalot, Company)) away. As Helen plots revenge and Madeline clings to her rapidly fading star, their world is suddenly turned upside down by Viola Van Horn, a mysterious woman with a secret that’s to die for.

After one sip of Viola’s (Grammy® Award winner Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child, Chicago)) magical potion, Madeline and Helen begin a new era of life (and death) with their youth and beauty restored…and a grudge to last eternity.

Death Becomes Her, based on the classic 1992 film, is a drop-dead hilarious new musical comedy about friendship, love, and burying the hatchet…again, and again, and again.

Life’s a bitch and then you die. Or not!

Death Becomes Her is coming to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on October 23, 2024, ahead of an opening night on November 21, 2024.

The Queen of Versailles, the new Stephen Schwartz musical starring Kristin Chenoweth and F. Murray Abraham as billionarie-couple Jackie and David Siegel, begins performances at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre on July 16 and will now run through August 25.

The cast will feature Stephen DeRosa (Boardwalk Empire) as John, Greg Hildreth (Company) as Gary, Tatum Grace Hopkins as Jonquil, Tony Award nominee Isabel Keating (The Boy from Oz) as Debbie, Melody Butiu as Sofia Flores and Nina White as Victoria Siegel.

The company will also include Anna Bakun, Stacie Bono, Yeman Brown, Amanda Jane Cooper, David Aron Damane, Drew Elhamalawy, Sara Esty, K.J. Hippensteel, Diana Huey, Cassondra James, Andrew Kober, Jesse Kovarsky, Pablo David Laucerica, Travis Murad Leland, Michael Mulheren, Michael McCorry Rose and Grace Slear.

The Queen of Versailles is an adaptation of the 2012 documentary of the same name about socialite Jacqueline “Jackie” Siegel, the book is by Lindsey Ferrentino (Ugly Lies the Bone) and direction by Tony winner Michael Arden (Parade).

From computer engineer to Mrs. Florida to billionairess, Jackie Siegel sees herself as the embodiment of the American Dream. Now, as the wife of David “The Timeshare King” Siegel and mother of their eight children, they invite us to behold their most grandiose venture yet: They’re building the largest private home in America in Orlando, Florida—a $100 million house big enough for her dreams and inspired by the Palace of Versailles. But with the Great Recession of 2008 looming, Jackie and David’s dreams begin to crumble, along with their lavish lifestyle. The Queen of Versailles explores the true cost of fame, fortune and family.

The production will feature choreography by Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant, music supervision by Mary-Mitchell Campbell, scenic design by Dane Laffrey, lighting design by Natasha Katz and sound design by Peter Hylenski, as well as costume design by fashion designer Christian Cowan.

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