When Pigs Don’t Fly

By MARILYN LESTER****What buzz there was around the revival of Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly. The wacky original was a huge success, playing Off-Broadway for two years and winning Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and OBIE awards. The retooled show was scheduled to begin previews on October 6 at Stage 42 for an October 20 opening. In quick succession, the producers — who included Joshua Goodman, Louise Hall Beard, and Gene Fisch Jr. in association with New York Rep — announced a week’s delay of the first preview, and then on October 2 announced the show was cancelled. A terse statement said: “a shortfall in the show’s investment has made it impossible for the production to continue.” No further information was forthcoming.

The pigs were grounded for good. So, what happened? Obviously, something went terribly off the rails. I’d like to refrain from judging; I wasn’t there. It is fair to say, though, having been a producer, that the path to opening night is a pretty clear one: there are specific documents, there are formulas, there are mathematics. Still, there is risk. In what other business does an offering plan tell you you are quite mad if you decide to go forward and invest in the enterprise. Producing theater can be a minefield, so it’s not a clever idea to add to risk with insufficient capitalization and crossed fingers. Yes, stuff happens, but the possibility of something going wrong should be built into the equation. When a show fails to fully capitalize before its opening there is big trouble in River City.

The original When Pigs Fly was the brainchild of the late fashion designer Howard Crabtree, who wrote the book and lyrics with director Mark Waldrop. The music was written by the late Dick Gallagher. The revue’s concept was that “Howard” stages a musical, struggling with giant egos and failing scenery. It was a sketch-based show (and a politically pointed one too), with joyful, outrageous humor at its heart. And the costumes. Oh, the costumes! But in 1996 mounting a musical didn’t cost as much as it does more than 20 years later, and Crabtree was able to create sheer fabulousness on a shoestring.

The revival was once again to be directed by Waldrop, with choreography by Denis Jones, featuring actors Jordan Ahnquist, Taylor Crousore, Jacob Hoffman, Brian Charles Rooney and Frank Viveros. The A-list fashion designer Bob Mackie was brought on board to create the costumes that are the centerpiece of the show. But A-list designers also come with A-list price tags. Mackie had already created 40 show-stopping costumes when the plug was pulled. Moreover, the show was reworked to become relevant to today’s political and social climate. That sort of thing, especially where there are music changes and charges, doesn’t come cheap.

Ultimately, the collapse of When Pigs Fly is not only a tragedy for the producers, it’s a calamity for those who put their energies into making the show happen – from the creatives to the stage hands and everyone in between. Those who’ve worked in theater know that the bonding process is fierce, especially among actors. Little families are created. When they are torn asunder it’s painful. The implosion of When Pigs Fly has also denied audiences the chance to experience a show that would possibly have been quite magical and might have made hundreds of theater-going folks very happy indeed. Ironically, one of the themes of When Pigs Fly has to do with keeping dreams alive. The end of this particular dream turns out to be not a tale of jubilation, but a cautionary one instead.