Composer Marvin Hamlisch, director Nicholas Hytner and librettist John Guare have been holed up in a Manhattan rehearsal studio with actor Jonathan Pryce and a cast of about 20 since Nov. 9, rehearsing a first-read of Livent's new musical, Sweet Smell of Success.
Marty Bell, senior producer at Livent, which initiated the musical based on the 1957 Burt Lancaster-Tony Curtis film, told Playbill On-Line Nov. 12 that Act I was read in Toronto over the summer, and the Nov. 9-19 rehearsal-reading is a "first look" at the "full draft" of the show, which has lyrics by Craig Carnelia. All the collaborators are involved in the reading, Bell said.
Pryce, who originated the role of the Engineer in Miss Saigon, plays powerful gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (the Lancaster role) and Brian d'Arcy James (Titanic) plays the Tony Curtis role of Sidney, the worm-like press agent in his orbit.
Livent, producer of Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman and the imminent Fosse, announced Sweet Smell as a project in 1996, eyeing fall 1999 for production. But Bell suggested it would likely be pushed to 2000 because of film directing commitments of Hytner (who staged Miss Saigon and directed the recent film, "The Crucible.").
Bell also said the new Livent musical known as The Seussical, using Dr. Seuss characters, is more likely for 1999 than Sweet Smell. That project's collaborators are "Monty Python" actor-writer Eric Idle (book), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), Stephen Flaherty (score) and Frank Galati (direction). Ahrens, Flaherty and Galati were Ragtime collaborators. Bell said both projects would likely have out-of-town tryouts perhaps in Livent's hometown of Toronto.
He confirmed that Sweet Smell makes no attempt to update the postwar New York nightclub milieu of the film, which had a screenplay by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets. "The attraction of the project was to explore this whole nightclub world of the 1950s," Bell said.
Bell said he expects a full workshop of Sweet Smell in fall 1999, after Hytner's filming schedule.
The ongoing Sweet Smell rehearsals, culminating in a reading next week, also include Anastasia Barzee (Ellen of Bway's Miss Saigon, LA Sunset Blvd.), Patrick Wilson (Miss Saigoin tour), Stacey Logan (Bway's 1997 Candide) and an ensemble of 12. Kay McClelland (City of Angels) played J.J.'s secretary earlier this week, but her material has been reconsidered.
Composer Hamlisch is best known for his Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical classic, A Chorus Line. He also had a long running hit with They're Playing Our Song but has enjoyed less success with ensuing projects, including Smile and The Goodbye Girl.
Carnelia is perhaps best-known for his songs "Just a Housewife" and others from Working. He wrote Is There Life After High School?, which had a short Broadway run in the early 1980s but was recorded and has attained a cult following. He recently performed a cabaret act of his songs.
Guare is the award-winning author of Six Degrees of Separation, The House of Blue Leaves, Four Baboons Adoring the Sun and the film "Atlantic City."
* The original motion picture of Sweet Smell of Success was directed by Alexander Mackendrick and also starred Marty Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols, Susan Harrison, Joe Frisco and the Chico Hamilton Quintet.