The Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical project Gold — once called Wise Guys and a hot prospect for Broadway a couple seasons back, is now bogged down in a contentious lawsuit that has cost the show its director and a regional premiere.
According to reports, Sondheim and Weidman filed a $5 million lawsuit against producer Scott Rudin on Nov. 20. The suit says Rudin has claimed he holds the rights to the show, all in a deliberate attempt to scuttle the project. Rudin was originally on board to produce the musical but had a change of heart upon seeing a workshop. "Rudin saw it and hated it," said the court papers, reported AP. "He openly and repeatedly disparaged the play."
Gold had a much-publicized and highly scrutinized month-long workshop at the New York Theatre Workshop in the fall of 1999. Sam Mendes directed a cast led by Nathan Lane and Victor Garber, playing the eccentric, real-life brothers, Addison and Wilson. The Mizners were regarded as risk-taking gamblers who ended up as real estate developers in Florida. Settings in the musical included Alaska, California, New York City and Boca Raton, FL, which the brothers helped found.
At the time, many expected the venture — the first new Sondheim musical since Passion — to jump straight to Broadway. But the workshop proved problematic (Sondheim later called it "a waste of time") and plans for a move were scrapped. Observers of the Wise Guys workshop, which was open only to New York Theatre Workshop subscribers and special guests, said that at some performances only the first act was performed, and that other nights also had parts of the second act. The show's style included presentational, vaudeville pastiche numbers.
In the months that followed, Mendes dropped out, and old Sondheim collaborator Harold Prince climbed aboard as director. Later, the title was changed to Gold. Wise Guys, 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. But Sondheim and Weidman had lined up a production at Chicago's Goodman Theatre when Rudin stepped in, claiming he owned the rights to the work and sending the composers a "cease and desist" letter, said the New York Post.
Sondheim and Weidman protest that the rights to the work have reverted back to them. Nonetheless, the two say Rudin sent Prince and the Goodman letters threatening legal action, causing the director to back out and putting the Chicago run in danger. The suit cites "intentional malicious and wrongful interference."
Rudin has produced Sondheim productions in the past, including Passion and the recent Broadway revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His other theatrical credits include The Blue Room.