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NATIONAL TOUR
The first quiver of life for a national touring company may appear even before the show opens on Broadway. Take the road company of "Sly Fox" starring Jackie Gleason. It begins its national tour in San Diego on March 6--a move which director Arthur Penn remarked "was obvious to us right from the start..." 
   "If Sly Fox was a success in New York," said Penn, "we knew it would be a super vehicle to tour. Larry Gelbart's modern adaptation of Ben Jonson's classic Volpone, has the broad appeal to entertain different kinds of audiences all across the country." 
   Since the play, as everyone knows, was (and still is) and unquestioned hit on Broadway, it wasn't long after the reviews were in that The Shubert Organization (which produced Sly Fox with Lew Grade and Martin Starger) began planning the national tour. The first step was to line up a star to carry the dominant role of crafty, lustful Foxwell J. Sly. Actually they lined up two stars. 
  The first was not Gleason, but George C. Scott, who opened in the Sly part in New York December 1976 and played it until the following May. 
   "After Scott finished his run," Bernard Jacobs, Shubert president told us, "he shook hands on an agreement play Sly for 14 weeks with a new company in Los Angeles, beginning in June this year. 
   "But we also wanted another company," continued Mr. Jacobs," one that would tour the country for at least 26 weeks. The star we wanted for that one was Jackie Gleason." Even though Gleason hasn't accepted many engagements in recent years, he loved the script and said "yes," making Sly Fox possibly the first non-musical in history to launch two major national companies with two major stars. 
   With Gleason signed, the sealed and promising to deliver, the next order of business was to book theatres. "Obviously," explains Jacobs, "it's going to cost a lot of extra money if you have to send the show from California to Denver and then all the way back to Seattle." Producers are aided in this cross-country booking by Independent Booking Office, which provides "routing sheets" showing attractions that have booked most U.S. theatres. 
   Because they like the Sly Fox/Gleason road potential, and the show is "heavy" in payroll and sets to be transported, the Shuberts have opted for larger theatres in "five-week" (or more) towns-e.g. the Orpheum in San Francisco, the Blackstone in Chicago, the Shubert in Boston, the Forrest in Philadelphia, Performing Arts Center in Miami.
   With essentials like a star, theatres, and schedules under control, director Arthur Penn had to face the task of casting the 16 non-Gleason roles. To do this he heard 50 actors a day, three days a week, for six weeks. Only Cleavon Little, to play "Able" was signed without having to read. 
   Penn also met with set designer George Jenkins and costumer Albert Wolsky to discuss new sets and costumes. The objective in this case was to be as faithful to the original as possible, while at the same time taking in some of the exigencies of the road. Sets, for example, would have to be lighter and more flexible in order to adapt to a variety of theatres. 
   In the four-week rehearsal schedule the special character of the Gleason road company is apparent. The rehearsal halls are in balmy Fort Lauderdale, Gleason's Florida home base, and calls are generally for late afternoon. "This is no bus-and-truck tour," notes Arthur Penn. "This is deluxe, the only way Jackie does things." 
   While Penn rehearses agent begins hustling into the scheduled cities four weeks ahead to generate interest. "We operate as if we're news in town," says Merle Debuskey, Sly Fox's general press repre- 
by Neil Ashby
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