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UFOMT season will include a Rodgers rarity

Published July 7, 2013 7:01 pm

'Rex' • The company will present workshop version of musical about Henry VIII.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some say that America is the land of second chances. If that is true, then what could be more American than a second chance for a musical penned by famed composer Richard Rodgers?

Although Rodgers passed away more than 30 years ago, surviving collaborators Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Sherman Yellen (book) hope to bring new life to "Rex," the story of Henry VIII.

At its core, "Rex" is a character-driven family drama — only it happens to be the family of the most famous English monarch, said Yellen. " It's a luscious story, it's a great story — it's intriguing."

After going through the War of the Roses and with all the problems with Ireland and Scotland, Henry felt that no woman could ever keep the throne and hold the country together, said Yellen. "And of course, he failed to see in his very spirited daughter Elizabeth — at least as she is portrayed in our version of events — that this is the very person, the son that he has spent the whole first act wanting."

While it certainly has its tragic moments, the show isn't glum, he said. "It has moments of tragedy and great moments of humor. It's the way shows used to be, and I'm hopeful for its success."

"Rex" was originally produced on Broadway in 1976 but never did very well. There are varying opinions as to why: It was America's bicentennial and nobody was in the mood to celebrate our former motherland; the production's emphasis was on the pageantry and not the human drama; American audiences felt "Hair" and "A Chorus Line" were the new direction for musicals; and the original star, Nicol Williamson, was difficult and refused to cooperate with revisions.

The show was shelved and wasn't reconsidered until the York theater in New York contacted the surviving creators.

"They do something called 'Musicals in Mufti,' where they will do an unsuccessful show by reputable people," said Harnick. They found that they have an audience that's very curious about those shows, so the audience will fill their little theater for maybe four or five performances."

Harnick said he and Yellen told the theater it could produce "Rex" on the condition that they have a chance to re-examine the script. "After 30 years, I'm happy to say, we saw what the mistakes were immediately, and we were able to rectify them."

The production at the York was a success, and the play went on to another successful run in Toronto.

The version that will be presented by the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre in Logan, Yellen said, is their "ultimate draft." It will be presented as a workshop, meaning there will be no sets, no staging, no costumes — instead, people in contemporary clothing with music stands.

The event is free, but requires tickets.

Yellen said Ted Chapin from the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization will come from New York to see it. "Hopefully he will look at it and say, 'OK, this is fine, I will now put it into the catalog and make it available so anybody who wants to license it can license it.' That's what we're hoping for from this production."

Yellen and Harnick will be there. Rodgers will be there in spirit.

Yellen remembered Rodgers as a man of immense courage. "The fact was, he was desperately ill by the time he came to writing 'Rex,' and he managed to go on to write another musical thereafter," he said.

"I think that one of the best songs that Richard Rodgers ever wrote was called 'The Pears of Anjou.' In the course of the play, the king of France brings Henry a gift, which are these pear trees which will bloom in 10 years' time. Henry is dying and he sings this song about wanting to live and see these pears, the pears of Anjou, the golden, splendid pears of Anjou. At that time, it seemed to me a song that exemplified who Richard Rodgers was, this man who wanted to keep going."

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Rex, unadorned

P This musical will be presented as a workshop,with no sets, staging or costumes. Actors will be in contemporary clothing with music stands.

When • Wednesday, July 31, 1 p.m.

Where • Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 S. Main St., Logan

Tickets • Free; but tickets required. Available at the box office at 59 S. 100 West, or 800-262-0074 ext. 3.

Information • 435-752-0026