Off-Broadway Production (1970)
This production was the American premiere of the work. There had a been a production in 1965 at the Stratford Festival in Canada, which was the North American premiere, but no production in the United States.
Previews were originally scheduled to start on February 10, 1970. They were postponed to February 17, and then postponed again, to February 20, perhaps to rehearse Shuman.
The production was originally scheduled to open officially on March 4, 1970. The opening was postponed several times — first to March 18, then to April 9, then to April 16, and finally to April 28 — while major changes were made. When it closed a week after the official opening, it closed at a loss of $350,000, an Off-Broadway record at the time.
It seems that the understudy for Jimmy Mallory, Bill Copeland, played the role for some time during previews. Some programs for the production list Mort Shuman on the cover but Copeland as Jimmy Mallory in the cast list. Shuman was listed, along with costars Barbara Harris and Estelle Parsons, in New York Times ad for the production on Thursday, March 19, but not in the ad on the following day or the day after that. (He was listed again in the Times ad on Sunday, March 22, probably because at the time that edition would be closed several days in advance.) The first Times ad in which Poretta was listed appeared on Sunday, March 29. So it seems likely that Copeland played the role for at least a week.
Dave Van Ronk and Joe Butler were listed in early ads for the production. Butler played Alaska Wolf Joe for a time during previews but Bill Copeland (the understudy who played Jimmy Mallory for time during previews) replaced him before the opening. We are not certain what role Van Ronk was to have played, but based on what other actors are listed in the ad in which Van Ronk's name appears, we think it may have been John Hancock Schmidt (a character usually known as Jakob Schmidt in other productions). Ethan Mordden, in his book One More Kiss, says that Van Ronk was in it when he saw it so it seems that he appeared in some early previews.
Carmen Capalbo, the co-producer and director of this production, had had a huge success with his Off-Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera. Part of his concept for this production was to include a rock band in place of the jazz band used in parts of the original. The rock band was removed during previews, as was the use of closed-circuit television in at least one scene and a filmed porno clip in the brothel scene.
According to Foster Hirsch's book Kurt Weill on Stage: From Berlin to Broadway, the production gave 69 preview performances, but we believe that number is incorrect. Given the performance schedule, and the starting and final dates of previews, 77 seems to be the correct total. We have found no evidence that any previews were canceled, once they actually started (after two postponements).
Barbara Harris was out of the show, due to illness, for a time during previews (starting around March 10 or 11 through around March 22). Her understudy, Jacqueline Penn, substituted.
Atlantic Records seems to have invested in exchange for the rights to make the cast recording, but no cast recording was ever made.
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