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It was either Laura Benanti or no Knicks tickets for Harvey Weinstein.
The producer of Radio City Music Hall's New York Spring Spectacular was looking for a star to lead the show, and when his friend and collaborator James L. Dolan, the executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company that oversees Radio City, fell in love with Benanti for the project, he jokingly threatened to pull Weinstein's Knicks seats if he didn't cast her.
“I can be blackmailed, I admit it,” Weinstein said at a Tuesday evening event announcing the rebooted Spectacular, which will start previews March 12, open March 26 and run through May 3.
Benanti won a 2008 Tony Award for her portrayal of Louise opposite Patti LuPone in Gypsy, and is currently guest-starring on Nashville and The Good Wife. She will star as Jenna, a jaded New Yorker whose frozen heart is thawed by a lovable tour guide.
Additionally, Whoopi Goldberg will voice the Statue of Liberty, one of many landmarks featured in the show. For the sports sequence, the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, sportscaster Sam Rosen, and Giants player Victor Cruz will all participate. Even business tycoons like Donald Trump and Martha Stewart are involved in the production, as showcased in promotional video screened at Tuesday's presentation.
Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle (a Tony winner for After Midnight) is working with husband-and-wife duo Randy Weiner (Sleep No More) and Diane Paulus (Tony winner for Pippin and director of Weinstein's upcoming Finding Neverland musical), who serve as co-creative directors on the project. Choreographer Mia Michaels (So You Think You Can Dance) will put together the show's opening number, an homage to New York City. Playwright Joshua Harmon will pen the story, and British singer-songwriter Gary Barlow contributed two original songs.
Originally conceived as Heart and Lights, the show was set to premiere last spring but was canceled less than a week before its opening date.
“We wouldn't have missed this opportunity to work on the world's greatest stage,” said Paulus. “As someone who lives, breathes, loves the dream of theater, to be able to do a show on the stage of Radio City is the dream come true.”
“As a director, I'm always very interested in referencing the past and knowing where we've come from and embracing theatrical tradition, and this is a hall that has an enormous theatrical history,” continued Paulus. “This is an opportunity to create a new addition to the history of Radio City Spectaculars. The icing on the cake was the idea that this was a love letter to New York City.”