The Goodman Theatre will host the premiere of a new August Wilson drama in 2002-03.
The play, Gem of the Ocean, is the ninth play in Wilson's chronicle of the African-American experience in the 20th century. Marion McClinton, who staged Broadway's King Hedley II and Of-Broadway'sJitney, will again direct. Dates are April 18–May 24, 2003.
Gem takes place in the first decade of the century. Press materials describe the plot thusly: "When Citizen Barlow, in spiritual turmoil, arrives at Aunt Ester's house claiming sanctuary from Caesar, the local constable, he sets into motion a series of events that includes a journey to the City of Bones, which leads to startling discoveries and puts him on a course where duty leads to redemption."
The Goodman was one of the many regional stops King Hedley II made before it reached Broadway in 2001. The Chicago house has also seen productions of Jitney, Fences and Seven Guitars. Often, the Goodman is one of the midway stops in a Wilson play's journey from debut to Broadway bow. But in the case of Gem, the company will give audiences its first look at a new Wilson work.
The Main Stage Albert Theatre season will begin with the Chicago premiere of Amy Freed’s comedy, The Beard of Avon, a work once planned for the current season. David Petrarca directs. The dates are Sept. 27–Nov. 2. As reported earlier, season's end will bring the premiere of Stephen Sondheim's new musical, Gold (see below). Two more Albert slots are yet to be filled. The smaller Owen Stage, meanwhile, will see the Chicago premiere of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero (Oct. 25–Nov. 24), with Robert Falls directing; and director Chuck Smith's mounting of By the Music of the Spheres by Carson Becker and David Barr (Feb. 14–March 16, 2003). One extra Owen attraction is to come.
In June 2003, Stephen Sondheim will finally see the curtain rise on the musical he's been working on for over 40 years. As expected, Chicago's Goodman Theatre has booked Gold for its 2002-03 season, a spokesperson for the theatre confirmed. The show will bow June 13, 2003, and run through July 19. No cast has been announced, but Harold Prince — Sondheim's creative partner during the 1970s — is the director.
Back in February, Goodman executive director Roche Schulfer said that there was still room for Gold in the theatre's 2002-03 season.
The announcement is the first happy news to be associated with the tuner in some time. Late last year, a high-profile legal battle between composers Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, and producer Scott Rudin, over the rights to the long in-coming musical Gold, succeeded temporarily in ejecting the show from the Goodman Theatre's hopper. Prior to that, the show languished after an unsuccessful workshop at New York Theatre Workshop.
The play is about the eccentric, real-life brothers, Addison and Wilson Mizner. The Mizners were regarded as risk-taking gamblers who ended up as real estate developers in Florida. Settings in the musical have included Alaska, California, New York City and Boca Raton, FL, which the brothers helped found.
The Goodman recently hosted the high-profile debut of the new Kander and Ebb musical, The Visit, which may reach New York.
The Sondheim-Rudin suit was recently settled out of court. According to a Feb. 2 report in the New York Times, Rudin will be paid roughly $160,000 if the show is ever produced. Rudin was the original backer of a failed 1999 workshop production of Gold, then called Wise Guys. The amount specified would cover the expenses he laid out during the New York Theatre Workshop venture.
The Times quoted statements by both parties. Sondheim and Weidman said, "We are pleased to have this lawsuit behind us and we are now looking forward to further developing the show with our director, Hal Prince, and its eventual production." The statement appeared to indicate that Prince, who had exited the project when Rudin threatened suit, was back on board.
Rudin, meanwhile, using the combative tone he employed from the start, said "After instigating a lawsuit against me, Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Weidman have had to agree that they must personally pay me 100 cents on the dollar — the entirety of my investment in Gold! — before they can proceed with a commercial production."
Gold had been scheduled for an out-of-town production at the Goodman when the legal battle erupted. As the Goodman prepared to stage the next version of Gold, Rudin stepped forward claiming he owned the rights to the work. He sent the composers a "cease and desist" letter and said he would sue if the production went forward.
Sondheim and Weidman protested that the rights to the work have reverted back to them. They also said the "cease and desist" letters scared the Goodman and Prince off the project.
Gold, first conceived by Sondheim some four decades ago, was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in D.C. and was originally scheduled to open in fall 1996. Since then, it has been repeatedly postponed.
For Goodman season information, call (312) 443-3800 or visit www.goodmantheatre.org.
—By Robert Simonson