Promoting 'Nick & Nora'


Charles Strouse and Richard Maltby Jr., composer and lyricist of "Nick & Nora," admit their collaboration didn't go too smoothly at first.

But the songwriters appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves yesterday, when they performed seven of the show's songs in the area's first glimpse of the musical that will play an exclusive pre-Broadway engagement at the Mechanic Theatre this fall.

Speaking to an audience of almost 300 group sales leaders, Mr. Maltby described the $6 million show as "a comedy, romance, murder mystery musical." Although "Nick & Nora" is based on the team of married sleuths created by Dashiell Hammett in the novel, "The Thin Man," the musical will have an original plot by Arthur Laurents and set in Hollywood in the 1930s.

In an interview before yesterday's presentation at the Mechanic, Mr. Strouse, a three-time Tony winner for "Bye Bye Birdie", "Applause" and "Annie," described his approach to composing as impulsive. By contrast, he said, Mr. Maltby -- currently best known as one of the lyricists of "Miss Saigon" -- is more cerebral.

However, as they both acknowledged, this combination of qualities perfectly describes Hammett's husband-and-wife detectives: A bit of witty, good-natured feuding was as essential as dry martinis to Nick and Nora.

"I think, when it all ends up, that it will be our greatest asset as a team that there's a difference in our sensibility," Mr. Maltby said.

For the half-hour presentation, Mr. Maltby stood at a microphone while Mr. Strouse played the piano, on which was perched a stuffed wire-haired terrier representing Nick and Nora's dog, Asta.

The songs they sang -- assuming all of the roles -- conveyed a period flavor reminiscent of Cole Porter and had titles including, "Is There Anything Better Than Dancing," "As Long As You're Happy" and "Look Who's Alone Now."

"I'm very aware of Porter, more than anyone else," Mr. Strouse admitted. But in addition, he explained, "I think of [the score] very strongly as an homage to the movies of 1930s."

The audience of group leaders, who book theater parties of 20 or more, seemed pleased with what they heard. John Sloand of Mechanicsburg, Pa., said he'd booked the show even before the preview, but he was impressed by the clever lyrics and entertaining concept. Lenny Shapiro of Diversions, a Baltimore organization, and Moya King of the Smithsonian both said they plan to bring groups on the basis of the presentation. "I found it delightful," Ms. King said.

"Nick & Nora" will open the Mechanic season with a 4 1/2 week run beginning Sept. 21. The title roles will be played by Tony Award-winners Barry Bostwick and Joanna Gleason, with Christine Baranski as a childhood friend of Nora's.

Broadway performances begin Nov. 1 at the Marquis Theater. The show was originally scheduled for the season now ending and postponed due to funding problems that have been resolved by a new set of producers.

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