Athena Hunting and Beau Heckman star in “Stop the World — I Want to Get Off” opening March 25 at Theater Works.

Photo courtesy of Arthur Zatarski

When they lost the rights to the hit “Chicago,” Theater Works had to go back to the drawing board quickly and find a new musical.

But instead of picking a similar show, artistic director Robyn Allen chose the rarely produced Anthony Newly musical “Stop the World — I Want to Get Off,” which opens March 25 at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. 

“This is definitely a gamble, but we thought hard about it,” said Allen. “But we chose something that people have not seen in a long time, instead of the familiar.”

Theater Works Executive Director Jack Lytle and Athena Hunting suggested they add the show to the season. And Allen hopes the risk pays off.

“Stop the World” first premiered on the West End in London in 1961, then transferred in 1962 to Broadway for a two-year run. Newly, who created and directed the musical, starred in the leading role and later was replaced by Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey.

The musical was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and won one of those honors.

In 1978, a Broadway revival of “Stop the World” featured Sammy Davis, who recorded the musical’s song “What Kind of Fool Am I,” which became a pop hit.

Set in a circus, the story focuses on Littlechap, who improves his life by marrying his boss’ daughter, Evie. But the heavy responsibilities of family lead him into the arms of different women.

And as he searches for a better life, Littlechap realizes that the love of his wife has been more than enough to sustain him.

“You have to learn how to manage all of the things important in life, without sacrificing anything important to us, particularly family,” Allen said.

Beau Heckman, who portrays Littlechap, said his character is a great role written for a male actor.

“This is a part that’s considered actor’s candy,” he said. “My character goes through so many emotions, and that really shows his human side.”

Several challenges existed for Allen when taking a fresh approach to the outdated show. She started with a new design concept for the circus.

“Visually with the costumes and sets, we added a twist to this circus,” she said. “We want people to see all the fabrics and colors you might see in Cirque Du Soleil.”

Heckman agreed.

“There is something about a circus that people can relate to, and this production will have a circus with spark and pizazz,” Heckman said.

Heckman said he’s pleased Theater Works chose to produce “Stop the World.”

“I’m not sure why people don’t do this a lot, but it’s too good of a show to sit on the shelf,” he said. “It’s great that we’re able to blow the dust off this classic.”

Mitchell Vantrease may be reached at 623-876-2526 or mvantrease@yourwestvalley.com.

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