EXCLUSIVE: A star of the new heyday of television is taking a swing at a golden age musical.
Bryan Cranston, the Breaking Bad actor who loves baseball and theater, is in talks to headline Damn Yankees, people familiar with the discussions said.
Jeffrey Richards leads a team of producers developing it for 2018. Richards enhanced (or subsidized) an Encores! revival of the show at New York City Center in 2008. Kathleen Marshall is to direct and choreograph Damn Yankees on Broadway.
In a brief telephone interview, Richards said he and his partners acquired the option to revive the musical but declined to confirm Cranston’s involvement. Marshall “is penciled in” to stage it, he said.
Cranston disclosed in a July 2016 podcast with Robert Wuhl that he’s in discussions to do “something that is not in my wheelhouse” — specifically, perform in a Broadway musical revival that he didn’t name. “I think it’s going to come together,” Cranston said. “This would be a reimagining of an old chestnut.”
The 60-year-old actor and producer is a diehard Dodgers fan. His wife, actress Robin Dearden, rented out Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for a surprise party on his 40th birthday. While he’s never been in a Broadway musical, he was a chorus boy in summer stock and handily proved himself onstage in Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way. The historical drama about Lyndon Johnson was a hit and Cranston and the play won Tony Awards in 2014. He was also nominated for an Emmy for the subsequent HBO movie, adding to his six Emmy wins for Breaking Bad. (A new series he co-created, Sneaky Pete, is on Amazon.)
Cranston could attract men to the theater — devotees of baseball and his AMC hit drama, which was about a struggling high school chemistry teacher who turns to manufacturing methamphetamine. He’d play the Devil, known as Applegate, who entices a middle-aged fan to sell his soul for the chance to play big-league baseball and defeat the Yankees. The 1955 original, directed by George Abbott, won seven Tonys and had 1,019 performances.
Lola, “the sultry handmaiden of the devil,” as critic Bosley Crowther wrote of Gwen Verdon in the 1958 movie, is a casting challenge. The part needs a singer-dancer with sex appeal and humor, who can pull off the locker-room striptease seduction number Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets). Verdon appears alone on the cover of the Broadway original cast recording. Jane Krakowski played Lola at Encores!; Bebe Neuwirth had the role in a 1994 revival. Richards said he has an actress in mind but declined to be specific.
The score was the second and final smash by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, following The Pajama Game. (Kathleen Marshall directed a Tony-winning revival of Pajama Game for the Roundabout in 2006.) Ross died five months after Damn Yankees opened, at 29, from a bronchial condition. Adler lived to 90. Hal Prince co-produced the original.
Richards said his partners on the revival are Scott Landis, Jerry Frankel and Jay and Cindy Gutterman.
Star-driven revivals can be an easier sell with the public than new musicals and have lower development costs, but they seldom enjoy the outsized profits that come from multi-year runs. This season, Jake Gyllenhaal plays George in Sunday in the Park with George (a 10-week revival that also started at City Center), Bette Midler is Dolly in Hello, Dolly! and Glenn Close revisits a role for which she won a Tony in 1995, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.