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Ahmanson, Geffen Fill in Season's Blanks

Theater * A trio of short musicals put together by Harold Prince and a play with Uta Hagen and David Hyde Pierce are on deck.


Springtime slots that have remained vacant in the Ahmanson Theatre and Geffen Playhouse seasons are about to be filled. The Ahmanson will announce today that it will present "3hree," a trio of short musicals, while the Geffen is expected to name as its fifth show "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," pending the completion of negotiations with potential stars Uta Hagen and David Hyde Pierce.

"3hree" replaces "Flower Drum Song," which was canceled in December. The package of one-acts was assembled by veteran producer and director Harold Prince, who will stage one of the three, "The Flight of the Lawnchair Man." But most of the creative talents behind "3hree" are relatively unknown.

Prince put together "3hree" for Prince Music Theater--formerly known as the American Music Theater Festival--in Philadelphia, where he is on the board of directors. It was produced there Oct. 25-Nov. 10. Ahmanson artistic director-producer Gordon Davidson didn't see it in person, but saw a videotape.

The show, with nine singer-actors, is scheduled for April 25-June 10 in L.A. All three plays use the same designers.

"The Flight of the Lawnchair Man" is about a would-be pilot in Passaic, N.J. Denied a license because of poor vision, he straps balloons to a lawn chair to soar into the skies. The book is by Peter Ullian and the score by Robert Lindsey Nassif, who previously collaborated on "Eliot Ness . . . in Cleveland." Nassif also contributed to two award-winning off-Broadway musicals, "Opal" and "Honky-Tonk Highway." Michael Arnold, who was nominated for an Ovation Award for his Ahmanson performance in "Martin Guerre," will choreograph.

The music for "The Mice," another play in "3hree," was composed by Laurence O'Keefe, whose "Bat Boy: The Musical" won several awards for a 1997 production by Hollywood's Actors' Gang. O'Keefe also won Ovation Awards as a sound designer, for "The Imaginary Invalid" and "Euphoria," both at the Actors' Gang. Also collaborating are lyricist Nell Benjamin, librettist Julia Jordan, director Brad Rouse and choreographer Rob Ashford (La Jolla Playhouse's "Thoroughly Modern Millie").

"The Mice" is set in a Minnesota town in which the winter chill has driven the title creatures indoors. After an exterminator's help is sought, the show becomes "a darkly comic look at love and marriage," according to a description from the Ahmanson. It's based on a Sinclair Lewis story.

The other component of "3hree," "Lavender Girl," is a 1920s tale about a Princeton student who encounters the title character. John Bucchino is the composer and lyricist; James D. Waedekin, the author. Scott Schwartz, who co-directed Broadway's "Jane Eyre" and staged "Only a Kingdom" at Pasadena Playhouse, is the director.

The number of contributors to "3hree" prolonged the process of putting the production together, Davidson said.

Davidson said he still hopes to present "Flower Drum Song," but he doesn't know if it will happen. Singapore financing of about $5 million--out of $7 million that had been budgeted to take the show from L.A. to San Francisco, Singapore and New York--fell through last fall. About $1.8 million was raised for an L.A. version "with some cuts," Davidson said, but it arrived too late to begin creating sets and costumes in time to meet the Ahmanson deadlines.

After canceling "Flower Drum Song," Davidson investigated "Thoroughly Modern Millie," but that show's team preferred to continue the pre-Broadway work on it elsewhere, he said. Sutton Foster, an understudy who took over the title role during rehearsals for the La Jolla Playhouse production last fall, will continue as the star of the Broadway production.

Meanwhile, Geffen Playhouse officials are "optimistic" that Hagen and Pierce will fill the two roles in "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," by Richard Alfieri, scheduled for June 6-July 8. Hagen would play a Florida retiree, and Pierce the dance instructor she hires. "Our interest in the play is based on those stars," said Geffen managing director Stephen Eich, and casting negotiations have not been completed. Eich said he also hopes to get Arthur Allan Seidelman to direct. No backup play is waiting in the wings for that slot in the Geffen season if "Dance Lessons" should fall through. Alfieri wrote "The Sisters," produced by Pasadena Playhouse in 1995.

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