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New musical ‘Beaches’ swimming to Drury Lane before Broadway

Another Bette Midler movie is about to become a musical set for a pre-Broadway engagement in Chicago.

As previously announced, “First Wives Club” will be arriving at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre beginning Feb. 17. But now comes word that next summer (June 24-Aug. 16, 2015), the Oakbrook-based Drury Lane Theatre, in partnership with a New York creative team, will present “Beaches,” a new musical based on the best-selling novel and hit 1988 film. The show will replace the “tentatively” scheduled production of Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap.”

“Beaches,” which chronicles the lives of two women from different backgrounds, whose complex friendship spans more than 30 years through childhood, love and tragedy, will be the first new work to be presented on the Drury Lane stage in 21 years, and marks the realization of a major goal of the theater’s president, Kyle DeSantis. Drury Lane’s artistic team will work to bring the show to the stage in conjunction with Broadway director Eric Schaeffer, widely respected for his productions of the musicals of Stephen Sondheim (and whose Arlington, Va.-based Signature Theatre staged “Beaches” last year on its smaller stage as part of its American Musical Voices Project), and Broadway producer Jennifer Maloney-Prezioso (“Spring Awakening” “Rock of Ages”).

“I have been trying to do this sort of project for a long time,” said DeSantis. “We believe we have a responsibility to help cultivate the development of new works, and this season marks our renewed commitment to that goal. ‘Beaches’ really appealed to me, and I think it’s something our audience will enjoy. We will be spending our usual budget for the show — about $1 million — with enhancements from the outside commercial interests. That includes building the sets and costumes.”

As for casting, DeSantis said: “The intent is to draw on the Chicago talent pool, even for the leads, though that will be a directorial decision, as will the choice of the design team. The talent here was one reason we landed the show. Auditions will start in two weeks.”

Of course this could end up being a deficit for Chicago artists, as Drury Lane shows ordinarily feature primarily (though not exclusively) Chicago talent for all aspects of its shows.

“Beaches” recounts the friendship between Cecilia Carol “C.C.” Bloom (the role played by Bette Midler), an ever-struggling New York actress and singer, and Hillary Whitney (originally played by Barbara Hershey), a San Francisco heiress and lawyer. It begins with the middle-aged C.C. receiving a note during a rehearsal for her upcoming Los Angeles concert that causes her to leave the rehearsal in a panic and frantically travel to her friend’s side. Unable to get a flight to San Francisco because of fog, she rents a car and drives overnight, along the way reflecting on her history with Hillary. Each of the two women will be portrayed by three different actresses to suggest their childhood days, early teens and adult years.

The book for the musical is the work of Iris Rainer Dart, who also penned the 1985 novel, and Thom Thomas, with lyrics by Dart and music by David Austin. The film’s Grammy Award-winning theme song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley, will be included in the show.

The full 2015 Drury Lane season lineup will begin with the regional premiere of the hit Elton John musical “Billy Elliot,” followed by “Beaches,” the regional premiere of the play-with-music “Peter and the Starcatcher,” and revivals of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and the vintage Michael Stewart-Lee Adams teen classic “Bye Bye Birdie.”

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