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Producers Won't Take Musical Molly Maguires to Bway in 2000

By Kenneth Jones
June 18, 1999

Producer Bill Haber, who, with Kathleen Raitt, initiated a five week pre- Broadway workshop of The Molly Maguires May 3-June 10, has decided not to pursue the Irish-accented musical after all. Producer Bill Haber, who, with Kathleen Raitt, initiated a five week pre- Broadway workshop of The Molly Maguires May 3-June 10, has decided not to pursue the Irish-accented musical after all.

Raitt told Playbill On-Line she felt the workshop was "worthy" and had much "beauty," but "we're not going to take the next step." That leaves the door open for other producers who might be interested in the serious- minded show, about a community of Irish coalminers in 1877 Pennsylvania.

The "next step" for Haber and Raitt was expected to be an early 2000 Broadway staging. Designers Santo Loquasto and Eugene Lee had already been engaged.

"We're very proud of the workshop we put on," Raitt told Playbill On- Line.

Presentations for friends and industry people were held June 8 and 10, respectively. A number of exploratory readings and workshops are held every year in New York City, with only a fraction of works seeing the light(s) of Broadway.

Composer-lyricist Sid Cherry, who has been developing the musical for nine years with book writer William Strzempek, told Playbill On-Line June 18, "I don't think anybody is defeated by this. We don't want to lose whatever momentum we've got."

"There's a rumbling in the theatre community that the era of the serious musical is over," said Cherry, pointing to audience disinterest in the darkly human Parade and Side Show and audience enthusiasm for pop musicals such as Footloose and the upcoming Saturday Night Fever.

Cherry said he and his collaborators will keep exploring and developing their material to see how to make it audience-friendly without damaging its integrity.

He pointed to Les Miserables as the prototype for the "serious" show that can still be a hit with crowds.

The show had previous professional stagings in Pennsylvania during its developmental process.


The workshop was mounted, with a cast of 25, as the first chance for producers Haber and Raitt to see the dark musical drama -- about radical Irish coal miners protesting wages and conditions in 19th-century Pennsylvania -- on its feet with the Irish step dancing, made popular by the stage show, Riverdance.

The cast included Jody Ashworth, Jane Bodle, Catherine Brunell, Kristin Carbone, John Dewar, Robert DuSold, Rich Hebert, Jessica Hendy, Ellen Horst, Paul Iacono, Christopher Innvar, John Jellison, Ken Jennings, Robert Jensen, Kathleen Keady, Joanne McHugh, George Merrick, Martin Moran, Gary Moss, Karen Murphy, Erin Pender, Ciaran Sheehan, Erik Stein, Jeff Talbott, Stephen Tewksbury.

Sheehan (Toronto's The Phantom of the Opera) played McKenna, the Pinkerton detective who infiltrates the Molly Maguires, the Irish coal mining subculture violently protesting low wages and unsafe conditions in 1877 Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

Innvar (A New Brain, Floyd Collins) played Kehoe, the head of the Mollys, Bodle (Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard) played Mary, the widow who falls in love with McKenna, and Martin Moran (Titanic) was the conflicted priest pulled between the church and justice.

Musical numbers in the workshop staging included "The Molly Maguires," "This One Chance," "Passin' Through," "Down, Down," "Whose Turn Now?/Wedding Dance," "Take Another Look," "Father, Tell Me," "Thankin' Franklin Gowen," "Do You Trust Him?," "Brothers," "One More Ton," "Watching and Waiting," "An Eye for an Eye," "There's a Wind Comin' In," "Hey, McKenna," "The Man I Know," "If That's the Way They Want It," "Love Will."

Dan Foster directed, Joey McKneely choreographed and the Irish step consultant was Riverdance alum Kevin McCormack.


Insiders said several million dollars were in place for a Molly Maguires production, and that a target date of St. Patrick's Day 2000 was rumored prior to the readings.

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 Development Grant which provided workshop money for an Off-Broadway staging. In October 1992 a full length version was presented in a series of staged readings at Playwrights Horizons.

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.