The Center Ring

A Treatment

MACK JOHNSON, a Svengali-like theater director who - 35 years ago - took Broadway by storm when he conceived, wrote, directed and choreographed the musical The Center Ring, which won every major category for a Tony and became an historic mega-hit, spawning touring companies all over the world.  During the 10 years within which the show remained a huge success, MACK came to believe the “hype” written about him and the show and played God, using and abusing drugs and everybody around him which subsequently caused his death of a brain hemorrhage. 

DEIRDRE, a Trilby-like leading lady and Mack’s girlfriend, won the Tony for her performance of The Ballerina in The Center Ring.  The difference between the two ladies is that Trilby was actually hypnotized, whereas Deirdre has been taken in ("hypnotized") by Mack’s ability to charm and manipulate her and others into doing whatever he wants.  Thinking it's Love, she finds out later it was her naivete. 

And there’s VINCE who was in the cast of The Center Ring 30 years ago and played the role of The Ringmaster and was accused of giving “attitude”.  He is now 65 and reinventing TCR (The Center Ring) by directing and choreographing his new version.

During a rehearsal of the opening number: WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS, MACK re-surfaces as a disembodied VOICE, interrupting the song, and argues that Vince has no right to change anything.  Jarred by Mack’s “voice” in his head, VINCE admits that the show is fundamentally the same but Mack’s intrusion only adds to the stress he’s under and he sings STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU

Not exactly friends, the guys take a few verbal swipes at each other and then MACK appears in the flesh and offers to help Vince with rehearsals - in exchange for Co-Director billing - by giving him ideas and additional insight into his own character.  He sings IN THIS BUSINESS (you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate).  Willing to accept the offer, VINCE reminds Mack that if it works, he will be out of sight, out of mind, and he will never think of him again.  Suddenly MACK is reluctant to seal the deal but then agrees.  They shake hands and he leaves.  VINCE turns to the audience and sings: KNOW YOUR ENEMY / PICK YOUR FIGHTS

FLASHBACK to the Tony Award Ceremony when MACK receives 4 Tony Awards, including “Best Director” for The Center Ring (TCR). 

From here we move FORWARD in time…when VINCE is 35, auditions for Mack and the role of The Ringmaster and is hired and sent to London, where he finds it necessary to defend his artistic integrity against incompetent people on Mack's staff. 

Still moving FORWARD to when MACK - working with assistants BEA and GARY - goes to London to replace the American company with the English and when GARY finds out that Mack is planning to replace the English star on opening night with Deirdre.  Although true, he denies it, but English Equity gets wind of it and Deirdre’s life is twice threatened.  She leaves for America and MACK is thrown out of the country. 

Being the connoisseur of mind-games, MACK makes a number of attempts at finding Vince’s Achilles’ heel, so he starts by firing him.  Then later on, he hires him back; then fires him again, then hires him and fires him again.

A master manipulator, MACK invites Vince to dinner with him and Deirdre, now husband and wife, and engages in a conversation over after-dinner drinks about the relationship between the Ballerina and the Ringmaster, the two lead characters in TCR.  Having done his home- work, VINCE believes the Ringmaster (MACK) becomes jealous of the Ballerina, (DEIRDRE) because she’s getting all the attention in the show and is pulling focus.  So to bring the “spotlight” back on him, the Ringmaster (MACK) proposes a “partnership” to the company with the intention of marrying the Ballerina (DEIRDRE) and having her step down from the high-wire and leave the show.  Hearing this, DEIRDRE finds herself between a rock and a hard place: she sees how all the pieces fit neatly in place and that Vince might be closer to the truth than she had ever imagined.  They hit an impasse in the evening. 

In the SILENCE of this impasse, each one sings their “internal thoughts” about the other: MACK of his attraction to Deirdre: (She’s) SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, DEIRDRE of the effect that Mack, who is as cold as ice, has on her: (He) TURNS ME INSIDE OUT and VINCE sings of EVERYTHING I’VE EVER WANTED.  When the trio is over and the silence is broken, DEIRDRE realizes that Mack has used her naiveté to control her life and career - like the Ringmaster manipulates the Ballerina - and leaves the dinner party in tears.  MACK caps off the (ACT I) evening by offering Vince his job back on Broadway.  But when VINCE “passes”, MACK makes it clear that he will call his agent in the morning and offer an astronomical salary - 6 to $10,000 a week - to get him back, and that if the offer is turned down, he will blacklist Vince.


It should be said here that there is a lot of “business” throughout the show involving the 5 ROUSTABOUTS who represent the “conscience” of the piece and who mime all kinds of silly scenarios in the scenes and between segues up to and including the end.

ACT II finds MACK arguing with his co-producer to get rid of the musical team on his new show After-Glow because, according to Mack, they won’t give him new songs.  His co- producer says his hands are “tied” and can’t do it.  MACK insists and sings BUY THEM OUT!  As he comes up with every reason in the book for his partner to “buy them out”, it dawns on him that he doesn’t really need this guy and just before the song ends, he writes out a personal check and then slams it on the table, saying: “You’ve just been bought out!”

Returning from an uneventful theatrical evening, GARY, BEA, DEIRDRE and MACK enter Mack’s penthouse where the two guys quickly change and head out for some “night life”, leaving the exhausted BEA and DEIRDRE confiding in each other about how Mack is using way too much drugs and that they wouldn't know how to help him even if they wanted to. THEY sing: THERE’S SOMETHNG IN THE AIR - HOLD ON

When After-Glow closes in Boston to terrible reviews, Mack and Deirdre's marriage rapidly decays and he begins to alienate everyone who gets in his way - Gary and Bea being no exception.  Then during a rehearsal with “new people”, DEIRDRE unexpectedly shows up, an argument ensues and MACK has a brain hemorrhage and dies.

A year later, DEIRDRE, GARY and VINCE meet in a theatrical restaurant.  MACK shows up, too, and is thrown for a loop when he finds out he’s dead.  He’s even more shaken up when he hears that the show has closed, that GARY is off to LA to meet with New Line Cinema who bought the movie rights, that DEIRDRE has had an offer to write a book about her life with Mack, and that BEA has written a "rebuttal" book on all the gossip that’s been spreading around about TCR for years.

When GARY leaves to catch his plane, DEIRDRE asks Vince his opinion about the book.  Being who he is, VINCE sings TELL THE TRUTH.  But since she’s still under Mack's shadow and is too much of a lady, she resigns to write “around” everything; then she reveals she's going on another tour of TCR being directed by BEA, who has become the sole Director of all TCR companies. 

ENTER the 65 y/o VINCE who, together with his younger 35 y/o version, shares his thoughts with Deirdre (and Mack).  He admits how he’s always admired Mack’s work, which not only surprises Deirdre but Mack, as well, who sees no reason why young Vince should stick around, so he picks him up and tells him to “go home”.  DEIRDRE, seeing a familiar face in the restaurant, excuses herself and leaves VINCE exactly where he was in the beginning: sitting at an empty table with the dead MACK JOHNSON. 

As fate would have it, the 5 ROUSTABOUTS are the solution to get Mack out of the hell-hole he’s in and, to everyone’s surprise, they lead Mack and Vince into the mysterious world of the new Center Ring, where the two men share The Ringmaster spotlight and announce two musical dance numbers: Henrietta, The Man Eating Dog (performed by BEA) and Danseuse Etoile, The Ballerina (performed by DEIRDRE). The crowd watches as the Ballerina is lifted, by rope, to the top of the tent, hundreds of feet above their heads and where, from the small platform, she uses a glissade to move along the high-wire; she repeats the glissade over and over until she reaches the middle of the wire, directly over the center ring, where in one stunning and unbelievable move, she goes on "Pointe" and balances herself on “toe”!

MACK has said “…the best definition I can give for the show itself is that it’s about the triumph of the human spirit, not the inevitability of man’s failings, as some may think.”   And I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, this is the first I’ve ever agreed with him on anything!

This project has been written with its sight set on Broadway and is in search of a brilliant composer/ lyricist, or a composer and lyricist team - known or unknown, established or not - who know their business and can create beautiful melodies and poetry not unlike Harnick and Bock, Kander and Ebb, Cole Porter, the Gershwin’s or Stephen Sondheim.