Harold Prince will take over the direction of Stephen Sondheim's long aborning musical Wise Guys, it was reported in the New York Times Magazine (March 12). Prince will replace Sam Mendes, who manned a failed workshop at Off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop this past fall. The tuner, which starring Nathan Lane and Victor Garber, had been expected to reach Broadway this spring, but producers decided against that move in late November.
Prince and Sondheim are among the most famous collaborators in musical theatre history. Together, they brought such masterworks as Company, Follies and Sweeney Todd to the stage. They have not worked together on a musical since parting company after the disasterous 1981 Broadway staging of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. Since then, Sondheim has most often worked with director James Lapine, while Prince has directed musical revivals of Show Boat and Candide as well as new shows including last season's Parade.
In the Times Magazine, Sondheim said he was eager to get back to work on Wise Guys. He added that the title of the piece would change, and called the NYTW workshop "a waste of time."
The Oct. 29-Nov. 20 public workshop at The New York Theatre Workshop was intended to gauge audience reaction and allow the producers, writers and director Sam Mendes the chance to see the shape of the material, which centered on the eccentric, real-life Mizner brothers. Nathan Lane and Victor Garber played the lead roles of Addison and Wilson Mizner, regarded as risk-taking gamblers who ended up as real estate developers in Florida. Settings included Alaska, California, New York City and Boca Raton, FL, which they helped found.
Mendes' star in Hollywood is ascending since the summer 1999 release of the critically-acclaimed film, "American Beauty," his directorial debut. The movie has since been nominated for several Oscars, including best picture and best director.
Observers of the Wise Guys workshop performances, which were only open 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.
Some of the show's style includes presentational, vaudeville pastiche numbers.
Other cast members included Candy Buckley as Mama Mizner, Michael Hall as Paris Singer, as well as Lauren Ward, Kevin Chamberlin, Christopher Fitzgerald and Nancy Opel. Also in the company were Brooks Ashmanskas, Jessica Boevers, Jessica Molaskey, William Parry, Clarke Thorell and Ray Wills.
Sondheim's vaudeville-style musical biography covers 40 years in the lives of the Mizner brothers, from the 1890s to the 1930s. Wise Guys, first conceived of 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 had been repeatedly postponed.
and Kenneth Jones