Tituss Burgess, enjoying small-screen fame as the struggling actor of Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” is also the driving creative force behind “The Preacher’s Wife,” a new musical based on the 1996 movie starring Whitney Houston.
Burgess has written a rousing gospel score to the show, which is generating strong industry buzz after a workshop last week for potential backers. Michael Arden is directing. Arden staged the terrific revival of “Once on This Island,” which snatched the Tony Award in June from two far bigger revivals, “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel.”
Theater owners and top Broadway producers attended the workshop, and word is the La Jolla Playhouse is likely to produce a pre-Broadway engagement next year.
Burgess and Arden put together a first-rate cast led by 12-time Grammy nominee Ledisi Young, Quentin Earl Darrington, the standout Agwe (God of Water) in “Once on This Island,” and Donald Webber Jr. (“Hamilton”).
Loretta Devine, who appeared in the movie and was in the original Broadway company of “Dreamgirls,” had a scene-stealing turn as a sharp-tongued matriarch.
A remake of the 1947 classic “The Bishop’s Wife,” “The Preacher’s Wife” tells the story of a pastor struggling to keep his small Baptist church from floundering in a poor New York neighborhood. He gets some help in the form of a suave angel, who falls in love with the pastor’s wife.
Houston’s popularity, along with that of her co-stars Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance, helped the movie earn $48 million at the box office. The film’s soundtrack spent 26 weeks atop Billboard’s gospel chart.
Burgess, who acquired the stage rights a couple of years ago, decided not to use any of the songs in the movie, opting instead to write his own music and lyrics.
It appears to be a shrewd decision. My spies say his songs are catchy and powerful, and had audience members clapping along. “Kimmy Schmidt” writer Azie Dungey’s book for the show, a source says, is “funny and sweet in all the right places.”
I tip my Broadway top hat to Burgess for recognizing its potential.
By the way, “The Bishop’s Wife,” which stars Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, is a charming old movie. I checked it out the other day, and it’s definitely good stage material. I tip my Broadway top hat to Burgess for recognizing its potential.
My colleague Johnny Oleksinski made the case the other day that director Michael Grandage’s revival of “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” should join the parade of London shows “Brexiting” to New York. We’ve already got a full slate that includes “The Nap,” “The Ferryman” and (coming soon) “The Inheritance” and “The Lehman Trilogy.”
Let me put in a word for David Hare’s new play “I’m Not Running,” a meaty examination of the state of British politics today. It opened last week at the National Theatre to mixed reviews. Critics picked at dramatic flaws but said the play was smart and absorbing, with compelling characters.
A new play by Hare is always an event. “Stuff Happens,” about the run-up to the war in Iraq, is one of my favorite plays from the 2000s.
I hope Lincoln Center or the Manhattan Theatre Club give the play a proper look. As good as the recent revival of his “Skylight” was, we haven’t had a new Hare play in New York since “The Year of Magical Thinking” in 2007
Photo Credit: New York Post