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A New Dress For Gershwin's 'Damsel'

August 29, 1987|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

George Gershwin died 50 years ago in Hollywood. But "new" Gershwin shows keep coming along. Sometimes they even have the same title.

On July 1, the Eastman School of Music announced that its Opera Theatre's fall production would be a new stage musical loosely based on "Damsel in Distress," Gershwin's last film for Fred Astaire. Set in London in the 1930s, the show would be called "Foggy Day."

In mid-August, Neil Simon revealed that he was writing an original musical using songs from the Gershwin catalogue. Set in London in the 1930s, the show would be called "A Foggy Day."

Something had to give and the Eastman show is now called "Reaching for the Moon." We asked Richard Pearlman, director of opera at Eastman, if he felt preempted. "You bet," he said.

However, it's working out. The new title is from "They All Laughed.' ( They laughed at me wanting you, said I was reaching for the moon . . . .) Re-focusing the final sequence around this song has increased the show's entertainment value "800%," Pearlman said.

Old Gershwin musicals keep coming along as well. But there are confusions here, too. When the Goodspeed Opera House wanted to do "Lady Be Good" (1924) this summer, it discovered that there were four separate librettos floating around, including one from the 1950s with jokes about Harry Truman.

Tommy Krasker, a musical-comedy archeologist, helped collate them, adding musical material recently discovered in a Warner Bros. warehouse in New Jersey.

The results pleased. Laurie Stone of the Village Voice decreed that "Lady Be Good" was fluff, but an amusing precursor to the Astaire-Rogers films of the 1930s--and that dancer Jim Walton was a dead ringer for Astaire, except in the footwork department.

ADVICE OF THE WEEK. Laurence Olivier to Anthony Hopkins: "Steal from everyone. Pinch a bit from every actor, and make it yours."

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