Having mastered the nuances of Stephen Sondheim, director Eric Schaeffer now turns his attention to another cultural icon — Barbie.
When not immersed in the sparkly, pinked and purpled world of the famous fashion doll and her copious accessories, Mr. Schaeffer is the artistic director of Signature Theatre. He will lead the production team for Barbie’s first-ever live touring stage show, “Barbie Live in Fairytopia!”
Barbie and her entourage descend on the Warner Theatre June 21. (Absent will be her gelded longtime boyfriend, Ken, who was given the boot a year or so ago. Rumor has it Barbie has taken up with a Buzz Lightyear action figure.)
Mattel, the maker of Barbie, and Clear Channel Entertainment will produce the show, which will tour more than 80 North American cities. Based on the hit DVD of the same name, “Barbie Live in Fairytopia!” casts the doll as Elina, a girl who doesn’t have wings (or, apparently, frequent flier miles) and thus cannot fly. With the help of magic and flying fairies, she eventually gets her wings.
Making the artistic leap from the Demon Barber of Fleet Street to Barbie doll is child’s play for Mr. Schaeffer. He knows his way around theme-park divas. His resume includes directing that raven-haired vixen, Snow White, in a 34-minute musical version of her complicated relationship with seven vertically challenged mineworkers for Disneyland.
“They saw my ‘Snow White’ in Disneyland and thought, ‘Who could put Barbie onstage?’ and my name came up,” Mr. Schaeffer said in a phone interview during which he admitted to having a Barbie with light-up wings (“It’s fantastic”) on the desk in his home office.
Barbie’s trademark perkiness will not be a problem for Mr. Schaeffer because he also directed the off-Broadway musical “Under the Bridge,” which was written by Kathie Lee Gifford. A doll with bendable arms and legs should be a breeze compared to the notoriously rigid Kathie Lee.
Of course, Mr. Schaeffer’s musical Barbie-palooza will not feature a star made out of plastic with nylon hair — Pamela Anderson was not considered for the role. His leading lady will be a living and breathing doll — an actress as yet uncast. To that end, Mr. Schaeffer will be on “Good Morning America” on Dec. 5 from 7 to 9 a.m., searching for the perfect Barbie.
“It’s an open audition and casting call along the lines of ‘American Idol,’” he says. “It should be wild.”
Mr. Schaeffer emphasizes the “live” in the show’s title. “The musical will have real actors and dancers — it is not like the DVD, except for the story line. All new music is also being written for the stage show.”
“Barbie Live in Fairytopia!” will be Mr. Schaeffer’s first up-close and personal encounter with Barbie. His two older sisters were rabid Barbie fans, and he remembers them toting around their red plastic carrying cases with the dolls on one side and the clothes on the other. “But that was it,” he says.
Mattel sent him a bevy of Barbie dolls to get him in the mood. “It’s a whole new world for me, one that is very pink,” he says. He hopes to bring that pinkness to the live show, which he promises will be full of sparkle and glitter.
“Seriously, it’s great,” he says. “What I love about my career is that I’m not stuck doing the same thing. This is the first time that Barbie’s hitting the road, and that in itself is exciting.”
The possibilities are endless. Once Barbie gets a taste of life outside the playroom, there’ll be no stopping her — ice shows, Vegas, a divas special on VH-1 with the Bratz dolls — or even Broadway.
You can imagine the marquee already: “Barbie and G.I. Joe in ‘South Pacific.’”