The project, being produced by Edgar Lansbury and Scardino, is aiming to reach Broadway in the spring of 2005 with an out-of-town engagement in the fall of 2004 and possibly another stop prior to its Great White Way bow.
"The idea is basically as if an acting troupe walked on stage, unpacked their bags and said 'Tonight, we do John Lennon' just like the players in Hamlet [say] here's The Murder of Gonzago. Well, here's the murder of John Lennon, [or] the life of John Lennon. Doing so, the 12 actors on stage all take up his voice and his time and be another facet of that personality and basically make up the measure of the man in the process, through the course of the evening. And ultimately, Lennon speaks himself at the end of the piece, by showing the 'Imagine' film."
The concept was constructed by Scardino in a weekend cram session, when the project was offered to him by producer Lansbury. He did it while editing the Douglas Carter Beane-penned film "Advice From a Caterpillar." Scardino recalled, "[Lansbury] said 'Well, I've got a meeting with Yoko Ono, but I don't have an idea. And it's next week! And if you can come up with an idea that we could agree on, you and I will do this together.'"
Being a huge Lennon fan since his teenage years, the idea — accepted in that first meeting with Lennon's widow Ono — came simply to the director. "I guess the thing that made it interesting to her was it's not going to be 'This is Elvis,' it's not going to be 'The Buddy Holly Story.' No one person can play John Lennon. As soon as a John Lennon impersonator walks on stage, I feel robbed. I want to summon up the real John Lennon. I don't want a bio-drama. I want something authentic," Scardino explained.
"His life to me has always been the search for the authentic man under the guise—whether it be the famous rich Beatle, the Maharishi meditator, 'The Primal Scream' acolyte, the up-against-the-wall revolutionary guy with the Chicago Seven. All these different guises he sort of tried on; it was all in the search for who John was. And it seemed to me that on the outside, he finally found who the real John was right before he was murdered." After squaring out an outline with song placement, the director went to work on a first draft. He then enlisted playwright Eric Overmeyer to help with successive drafts, because of his "very Joyceian way with language," which Scardino compared to Lennon's own prose writing.
The stagework at the moment comprises between 25 and 30 musical numbers from the vast Lennon catalog. Some of the numbers incorporate more than one tune by way of medleys.
The Lennon Project will tell the tale of more than just a musician. "He always seemed to be ahead of the curve. Or, by example, the curve followed him. He was such a leader for a certain generation, particularly, that he's emblematic of the times he came through." Scardino summed up the concept as "Not only how his life defined the times, but how the times defined him."