The 2015-2016 Broadway season will soon come to a close, but the Otis Sallid-spearheaded revival of Joseph Kesserling’s Arsenic and Old Lace, set to feature sisters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad as the Brewster siblings, has yet to grace the stage.
“For the last four years, I’ve been trying to get this production up and running,” said Sallid, CEO and founder of Creative Otis, in December 2014. With the Broadway beacons on board, Sallid to serve as director and interest from Long Wharf Theatre and Huntington Theatre Company, all that was left was acquiring the first-class rights to the play. At the time of the announcement, it was reported Sallid was “in the midst of acquiring the rights” and attempting to move the project forward.
An update has not been made since the casting announcement now more than a year ago. Additionally, no information is found on Sallid’s website. Any number of reasons could explain the silence about the project, a project noted to have a lot of interest. High on the list would be the inability to obtain the rights. It could be that schedules changed, or creative heads collided. Or, quite simply, bad timing.
A Pennsylvania revival was staged in 2014 as a joint production with Fulton Theatre (Lancaster) and Walnut Street Theatre (Philadelphia), while a Dallas Theater Center mount took place in February 2011. Sallid’s offering would have been the latest Broadway revival of the play; the last which ran from June 1986 to January 1987, at 46th Street Theatre.
Allen and Rashad were last seen together in 2008 for all-Black-cast revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof produced by Front Row Productions headed up by Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey. Allen served as director and Rashad starred as “Big Mama.”
It was reported that Sallid would not produce an all-Black production of the play that first opened in 1941, at Broadway’s Fulton Theatre. The play, written in 1939, closed after 1,444 performances on June 7, 1944. A film adaptation directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant was released in September (although it was filmed the same year it opened on Broadway).
It would appear the aim was to attach high-profile names to the project to help it to progress. According to Sallid, for the production to receive a box-office draw it would hinge on the involvement of the real-life sisters. Sallid – who co-created the 1995 musical revue Smokey Joe’s Café – noted “they’re very brilliant artists and directors in their own right… they’re really good at what they do. And I think they can understand a project such as this.”
We must continue to wait and see if the project will be revived for the upcoming season. Or, if – like the storyline – if has become a lonely old man poisoned with a glass of homemade elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and ‘just a pinch’ of cyanide.
While you wait, take a look at these scenes from The Old Settler starring the sisters and get a taste of what Arsenic could be!