It was a marvelous treat to catch up recently with JERSEY BOYS Broadway’s Bob Crewe, Peter Gregus, who shared some exciting creative news with us!
For the past couple of months, Peter has taken a break from Broadway to direct, choreograph, and adapt June Havoc’s play, MARATHON 33 with colleague Tome’ Cousin! We’re thrilled to announce that the world premiere of M33 is scheduled to run at the Pittsburgh Playhouse from February 24 though March 4 with a preview on February 23!
Jersey Boys Blog: Wow, Peter, M33 sounds like an amazing play & a fantastic opportunity for you! How did it all come about?
Peter Gregus: I have been working on adapting June Havocâ€™s play MARATHON 33 for about three years now. My friend Tome’ Cousin, who I performed with in CONTACT at the Lincoln Center Theater, had been working on the piece for a number of years and asked if I wanted to work on it with him.
We met with Ms. Havoc a few times, although never actually face to face. We would go to her home in Connecticut and sit with her assistant in her dining room. Due to Ms. Havocâ€™s age and health, they had turned her living room into her bedroom. Over the course of the conversation with her assistant, Ms. Havoc would call from the other room for her assistant, who would then run into the bedroom. She’d reappear to us with various clippings, photos, personal letters, and writings that Ms. Havoc wanted us to see. It was pretty incredible.
Last winter, we put together a reading of what we had, and invited friends to come and see it. Good responses, but we knew it needed more work. We put together another reading in May and invited more industry folks to come and see it. That led to us being offered our world premiere at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
JBB: Congratulations on the world premiere of M33! Tell us more about the play.
PG: Thanks! The play M33 is based on June Havocâ€™s autobiographical play MARATHON 33, which was produced on Broadway in 1963 at the ANTA Theater. Now, for those of you trivia fans out there, who can name what the ANTA Theater is named now? You guessed it, THE AUGUST WILSON!!! Strange, huh?
When Ms. Havoc, the DAINTY JUNE of GYPSY fame, married at 14 to get away from her domineering mother, she and her husband Bobby created their own Vaudeville act. After a year, Vaudeville up and died, leaving June nowhere to go. She was sent by her agent to perform in a dance marathon. She was to do her 15-minute set and get out of there, since Marathons were considered the lowest end of show business at the time. Upon seeing her, the promoter of the marathon decreed her â€˜too anemicâ€™ to keep the audience in their seats, but convinced her that her look and ability would serve her well in the marathon circuit. So, she joined up and that is where the play begins. It’s a loving tribute to her colleagues from the marathons. Ballroom dancers, vaudevillians, sports stars of the day–all were part of what I call the originator of the first American reality show! They all wound up there as a result of the Depression. If you could manage to stay on your feet 24 hours a day (with 15-minute breaks every hour), you had a roof over your head, 12 meals a day, and income from the coins the spectators would throw to the marathoners. Some marathons would last as long as 3,600 hours! Thatâ€™s almost five months! The play is about not only survival, but triumph in a time when the world was in a desperate state.
JBB: M33 is a fascinating story. What do you think is the most exciting part of the play for you?
PG: The thing about the play that I love most is its parallels to todayâ€™s environment. Realty TV is a direct descendant of the Marathons, as is roller derby, professional wrestling, etc. We are also in a time of economic upheaval, much like the 30′s. But the play has humor, joy and hope, along with all hardships that the marathoners endure.
JBB: Is this your directorial debut?
PG: Directing has always been an interest to me. I have directed in the past, a few plays and musicals in my 30′s, and some big benefits for Broadway Cares, more recently. But this is the first time I’ve adapted and directed anything. We had to find a way to tell this story to a modern audience, using modern techniques in telling a period story. Adding media (projections and video) is one of those techniques that fit well with our story. We also borrow from some of the European storytellers like Pina Bausch and the Bauhaus Theater movement of the 30′s.
JBB: M33 really seems like itâ€™s been an awesome opportunity for you, Peterâ€”and a major departure from playing Bob Crewe and so many other roles in JERSEY BOYS!
PG: Itâ€™s been a fun couple of months away, but I do miss my JERSEY BOYS family. It’ll be nice to see all those familiar faces again and put on my Crewe clothes and attitude. I miss him so!
Marathon 33 (M33) will run Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range in price from $18 to $20 and can be purchased by calling the Pittsburgh Playhouse box office at 412-392-8000 or online at www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.
Peter will return to JERSEY BOYS on March 6.