Dear Jeff: I was lucky enough to see this 1955 production of Orson Welles' Moby Dick Rehearsed, at the Duke of York's Theater, and it remains one of the great theatrical experiences of my life.
As the critics report, the setting was a mid 19th Century American repetory theater. The play opened, save for a few ropes hanging down from the flies, on an a bare, open stage (with a thrust), influenced no doubt by the example of Welles' friend and mentor, Thornton Wilder. The cast milled around briefly, grumbling about the boss and the fact that the play they thought they were to do, King Lear (?), for reasons I've forgotten, could not be done. Smoking a cigar, Welles, in a long black cape and the feathered hat of a musketeer, made an entrance as a starring actor manager of the time, and told them that they were going to do another piece they had been working on: Moby Dick.
The cast, after more grumbling, began to improvise scenery with the ropes, and soon got into it. And what a cast it was. Gordon Jackson, a young actor, scrambled out on the thrust to say: "Call me Ishmael." Christopher Lee, as the Stage Manager arranged the cast for the Spouter Inn scene, and becam Flask the Third Mate. Patrick McGoohan, as a serious actor who particularly resented the change, played the commanding First Mate, Starbuck, and listened with trepidation to Father Mapple (Welles) give his sermon on Jonah. Kenneth Williams as Elijah confronted Ishmael with his apocalyptic vision. In my memory, I remember Bernard Miles played Stubb (even though I see Winsley Pithey given the credit). Certainly, Joan Plowright, a young actress, unknown at the time, played Pip, and Welles was the towering Ahab.
I don't remember a Quee-Quegg, but I do know who was Moby Dick. We were -- the audience!
The production was full of imaginative arrangements, lighting, sound, sea chanteys and staging. The cast sometimes climbed the ropes up to the precenium to scan the sea for the White Whale. In particular, I recall the hunt for Moby Dick, in which the cast kneeled, sat, and stood on each others shoulders, faced the audience at center stage, swaying from side to side, as if in a whaling boat.
At the end, after the bows to a shouting, standing ovation, Welles walked out on stage to praise the players (most of whom where just getting started in London theater, Movies and TV, and to thank the audience. He took a step forward, and just where he had stood, a weight fell from the flies, and sent sand flooding around him. He commented that someone must be still be angry, saying: "Many have tried to prevent us from getting together." He used that bit of business to urge us, Whale and all, to go forth and spread the good news.
I see evidence that this production was broadcast on BBC-TV in 1955, but if so, it must be another one of those lost masterpieces . . . another golden age, perhaps lying in a bin in some cellar.
A memorable night in the theater, in any case, and one of two occasions on which I saw Welles personally.
Hope this is useful.