New Bway-bound Musical, Molly Maguires, Workshops in NYC Thru June 10
By Kenneth Jones
May 4, 1999
Riding the wave of interest in all things Irish, the long aborning musical,
The Molly Maguires, began a six-week New York City workshop May 3 that
will lead to a June 10 presentation and decisions by producers Bill Haber
and Ostar, with Kathleen Raitt, about the future of the show.Riding the wave
of interest in all things Irish, the long aborning musical, The Molly
Maguires, began a six-week New York City workshop May 3 that will lead
to a June 10 presentation and decisions by producers Bill Haber and Ostar,
with Kathleen Raitt, about the future of the show.
Raitt told Playbill On-Line May 4 that the historically-based script was
submitted to partner Haber last year and the producers were knocked out by
the award-winning libretto by William Strzempek and music and lyrics by Sid
The hope is that Molly Maguires will land on Broadway in 2000.
Begun in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop as early as 1990,
the show has gone through many readings and workshops. Strzempek won the Ed
Kleban Award for outstanding libretto for the project and Cherry was nominated
for the BMI Jerry Bock Award for best score. The project won a Richard Rodgers
Award which provided developmental money.
The workshop itself is produced by Haber. A company of 25, directed by Dan
Foster, is led by Ciaran Sheehan, the Irish-born star of Toronto's The
Phantom of the Opera. "It's a serious musical that has wonderfully joyful,
honest moments in it," Raitt said. "The Irish always seem to have an indomitable
She said The Molly Maguires is based on the true story of a man,
James McParland, played by Sheehan, hired to infiltrate a subgroup within
the Ancient Order of Hibernians in an eastern Pennsylvania coal mining town
in 1877. The group, the Molly Maguires, has been sabotaging the mining operation
to protest low wages and poor working conditions.
"[Employees] lived in company quarters and had to buy from the company store,"
said Raitt. "They were given scrip instead of money. The Molly Maguires were
the frontrunners of the coalminers' union."
Sheehan plays infiltrator James McKenna, the pseudonym for McParland. Jane
Bodle, late of Sunset Boulevard and Miss Saigon, plays love
Also in the cast are Karen Murphy (Zombie Prom), Martin Moran (Titanic),
Chris Innvar (A New Brain, Floyd Collins), John Jellison (Titanic,A
New Brain) and Ken Jennings (Side Show, Sweeney Todd).
The story is also the basis of the 1970 Martin Ritt-directed film starring
Sean Connery and Richard Harris. Although the subject matter is dark, "there's
a love story and a small child who is the catalyst in humanizing the leading
man," said Raitt.
The Molly Maguires is not a pop-rock musical, but it does have pop
elements, Raitt suggested. "It's a real, honest-to-God book musical," she
said. "That's what's so attractive about it."
Raitt said although the show did have a small staging that played two theatres
in Milton and Media, PA., outside Philadelphia in 1996, the collaborators
have not had major shows produced in the past. If it appears on Broadway,
as hoped, in spring 2000, it would be the writers' major debut.
"The reason we're doing the workshop is that Bill and I haven't seen it on
its feet," said Raitt. "And a new element was added, a serious infusion of
Joey McKneely (Smokey Joe's Cafe) is choreographing and the "serious
infusion" involves Irish step dancing with the help of a lead dancer from
Riverdance, the Irish entertainment phenomenon.
"We're doing the workshop to see it on its feet, to see if the dance element
works, to show it to some of our friends and theatre owners (and) to see
if we can continue the process," said Raitt.
Raitt's producing credits include The Scarlet Pimpernel with Haber
and Pierre Cossette and The Civil War with Cossette and Pace. Haber's
producing resume includes Titanic, The Iceman Cometh, Freak and more.
Designers attached to the project Eugene Lee (scenic) and Santo Loquasto (costumes).