“Water for Elephants,” Sara Gruen’s novel about a Depression-era veterinary student whose life is transformed when he joins a circus, became a surprise best seller after it was published in 2006. Five years later came a film adaptation, and next spring, a spectacle-rich stage musical version will open on Broadway.
The musical, as befits a show set primarily at a circus, will feature seven circus performers, who make up about one-third of the onstage cast. As in the novel, the story is told through the recollections of the main character in his older years.
“Most people think of the story as about this young man who jumps on a train and joins the circus, but I’m really compelled by his older self, looking back on the chapter that changed the course of his life forever,” said the musical’s director, Jessica Stone, who also directed “Kimberly Akimbo,” the winner of this year’s Tony for best musical. “The show is about the kind of person you are when you lose everything, and it’s also about chosen family, and the choices you make with the time that you have.”
“Water for Elephants,” a big-budget musical that has been in development for about eight years, had an initial run in June and July at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. After some reworking aimed at strengthening the storytelling, it is scheduled to begin previews on Feb. 24 and to open March 21 at the Imperial Theater.
The musical is set largely in 1931; its book is by Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “Peter and the Starcatcher”) and the score is by PigPen Theater Co. The circus design is by Shana Carroll, who is an artistic director of The 7 Fingers, a prestigious Montreal-based circus collective; Carroll is also collaborating on the choreography with Jesse Robb.
The show is being capitalized for up to $25 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which could make it the biggest-budget production of the current Broadway season.
The producing team is being led by Peter Schneider, a former Disney animation executive who played a key role in bringing “The Lion King” to Broadway, and Jennifer Costello, a former executive at the John Gore Organization, where Schneider is the chairman of the board. The other lead producers are Grove Entertainment, Frank Marshall, Isaac Robert Hurwitz and Seth A. Goldstein.