Twenty-one performers are all busy rehearsing Judgment at Nuremberg, a new drama starting previews Feb. 15 at Broadway's Longacre Theatre. Rehearsals began in mid-January for the show, slated to open March 26. John Tillinger directs Abby Mann's script, adapted from his own screenplay.
According to spokespersons, the full cast of Nuremberg includes Maximilian Schell as Ernst, George Grizzard as Judge Haywood, Robert Foxworth as General Parker, Marthe Keller as Frau Bertholt, Joseph Wiseman as Dr. Wickert, Michael Hayden as Oscar Rolfe, Michael Mastro as Rudolph, Susan Kellerman as Elsa, Heather Randall as Maria Wallner, Peter Herman (OB's The Gathering) as a Prison Guard, Jack Davidson as General Merrin, Peter Kybart as Geuter, Jurian Hughes as the court interpreter, Henry Strozier as Judge Norris, Fred Burrell as Judge Ives, Rex Robbins (The Sisters Rosensweig) as Senator Burkette, Teagle F. Bougere as Captain Byers, Patricia Connolly as Mrs. Habelstadt, Peter Maloney as Emil Hahn, Philip LeStrange as Fredrich Hoffsetter and Reno Roop as Werner.
Several of the better-known cast members, as well as author Mann, director Tillinger, and co-producers Tony Randall (for the National Actors Theatre) and Earle I. Mack took part in a Feb. 7 press conference stressing the importance and instructional value of the Holocaust-based drama. Again and again, several participants stressed the "never again" theme of the courtroom drama, as well as its insistence on personal responsibility.
Far from seeing the play, about the war crimes trial of the Nazi high command and bureaucrats, as old-hat or sad nostalgia, author Mann stressed the material's timeliness. "It's more important than ever, because we must find a way to stop future genocides."
Producer Mack concurred, noting the importance of educating children about World War II and its horrors. "When `Judgment at Nuremberg' was first done on television, they took a poll, and 22 percent of people didn't know the Holocaust even existed! Through education in our public schools, children should never forget this terrible Holocaust. And we need to warn and teach officials to look at early signs leading to these kinds of atrocities." "I feel so contradictory to my last line in the play," actress Marthe Keller added. "The character says, `we must forget.' But of course, we must not forget. We must never forget."
Co-star Maximilian Schell concurred. "Each generation forgets. Time rushes by. Who remembers three Presidents before this one? And it's so difficult to find something to hold onto today. But what is important — and this is a line in the play — is the value of one single human being. Justice and truth. My mother spoke out against Jews having to rub the floor, and my father wrote outspoken plays...we had to leave Austria when I was seven, and we went to Switzerland. We were lucky, but it did change our lives."
Asked whether the production of Judgment at Nuremberg would make any educational inroads, co-producer Randall noted that two free matinees of the show would be performed for high school students, and that those schools would receive preparatory materials to put the drama in historical context. In fact, the production came about simply because N.A.T. general manager Fred Walker had visited Germany the year before and suggested to Randall that the piece be staged.
Robert Foxworth sees this kind of theatre as a way to "address the vacuum. Young people aren't paying attention. They're too busy buying stuff."
"Since Nuremberg and because of the real Nuremberg trial," director Tillinger added, "for the first time in history, men were held accountable. But in every generation, people have to be reminded. A lot of my family was killed in the Holocaust. I had one uncle who lived in Berlin and was hidden by a German family throughout the war — and he was actually killed by Allied bombers. But it's true, people forget, or they're not taught. It wasn't until the series `Holocaust' was on TV that a lot of people started saying, `did that really happen?'"
And just to ensure that audiences don't assume the play is purely fictional, some authentic film footage will be shown. "Oddly enough, I'm more affected by the early footage, people being taken away and brought to the camps, than by the later stuff, the emaciated bodies and all that. If you're not careful, you can have a surfeit of that, which works against you."
George Grizzard, who plays the wry but no-nonsense judge, sees the work stressing "the need to resolve blame and responsibility" and his character under pressure not only to see justice done but to take into consideration "international events at the time. You had the Berlin blockade, the Soviets in Eastern Europe. The American government felt it had to unify the German people against the Soviets. So it's a fine line [this judge] had to walk."
Michael Hayden pursued that thought, noting that even in such a seemingly clear-cut, good-vs.-evil scenario, our perception of the trial can be colored by a "victors judging the vanquished" mentality. "As Americans we judge the world," Hayden said, "rather than turning inward. The closest to that you might find is going down South and asking about the War between the States."
"Patriotism is the enemy, the antagonist," author Mann added. "It's about what people do out of patriotism. Nazis kill because they love their country. Supposedly."
"And the Nuremberg trials might have even had more credibility," Schell said, raising a few eyebrows. "If they'd put everyone on trial. Not just the victors over the vanquished. Should Truman have been put on trial for Hiroshima? Or if they had the courage to put the Russians, or the French on trial as well. For America, Vietnam still has a great many things to be worked on. Sometimes it's nice to have a `mea culpa.'"
Moving from the political to the aesthetic, author Mann stressed that this adaptation of Judgment "is not the film on stage. Some scenes have been rewritten...and there's more outside the courtroom." "And," added actor Grizzard, "it's cheaper than Cabaret."
Judgment at Nuremberg began life at a television production. It was subsequently made into a film starring Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Lancaster, Judy Garland, Schell and Marlene Dietrich. The NAT commissioned Mann to adapt his own script for the stage. (The play has no connection, by the way, to another television piece: "Nuremberg," a four hour docudrama by David W. Rintels, which premiered July 16 on Turner Network Television.)
Judgment marks the NAT's first venture since Night Must Fall, which closed on Broadway in spring 1999. Since its first two seasons, in the early '90s, the NAT has operated in a more casual manner, presenting a play whenever the needed elements and talent were brought together. Past productions have included The Gin Game and Inherit the Wind. Nuremberg is produced by NAT in association with Earle I. Mack.
Director Tillinger, whose most recent NYC credit was the short-lived Suite in Two Keys Off Broadway, has almost become the house director for the NAT. For the company, he has mounted Inherit the Wind, Night Must Fall, The Sunshine Boys and Three Men on a Horse.
On the acting front, Mastro played Ziggy in the Off-Broadway and Broadway casts of the Tony winning Side Man. The Nuremberg role will mark Broadway appearance number 2 and 1/2 for the actor; he was in the Christopher Plummer vehicle Barrymore, but only as an offstage voice, occasionally prompting the drunken protagonist.
Hayden’s credits include Far East and the last Broadway revival of Carousel. Keller’s film credits include “Black Sunday” and “Bobby Deerfield.” Randall, the wife of company artistic director and “Odd Couple” actor Tony Randall, appeared in OOB’s Hansen’s Cab last season. She will have the Judy Garland role of a Holocaust survivor.
Actor Schell, unforgettable as the volcanic attorney defending Nazi war criminals in the film version of Nuremberg, returns to the material - albeit in a different role. This time he's playing a defendant, a calm, intelligent man who should have known better than to just follow orders. (The role was played by Burt Lancaster in the movie.) Apart from his Tony winning stint in the recent revival of A Delicate Balance, Grizzard’s other stage credits have included 1959’s The Disenchanted and 1961’s Big Fish, Little Fish, both of which earned him Featured Actor Tony nominations.
The show’s designers will be James Noone on sets, Jess Goldstein on costumes and Brian MacDevitt on lighting.