Report: Sam Mendes To Direct Sondheim's Wise Guys

News   Report: Sam Mendes To Direct Sondheim's Wise Guys
Sam Mendes, the innovative director of London's Donmar Warehouse theatre, is scheduled to direct the new Stephen Sondheim - John Weidman musical Wise Guys at the Kennedy Center and on Broadway, Variety reported.

Sam Mendes, the innovative director of London's Donmar Warehouse theatre, is scheduled to direct the new Stephen Sondheim - John Weidman musical Wise Guys at the Kennedy Center and on Broadway, Variety reported.

Readings and workshops are planned for the musical during the 1997-98 season, with a spring 1998 opening tentatively scheduled at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, which commissioned the musical about the brothers Wilson and Addison Misner.

Variety reported that the production will be directed by Mendes, whose innovative environmental staging of Cabaret may come to Broadway in winter 1998. The trade paper also reported that Wise Guys will move to Broadway in autumn 1998.

The report could not be confirmed with the Kennedy Center by press time.

Paul Salsini of The Sondheim Review magazine reported that Sondheim's office is denying the Variety story, saying Mendes is among those being considered, but no one has officially been named. Salsini also observed that the Variety schedule looks ambitious. Sondheim says a reading--not a workshop yet -- of the first act might happen in October, 1997. The show was originally scheduled for the Kennedy Center in summer 1996, then was postponed to June 1997, then postponed indefinitely.

Sondheim and Weidman unveiled at least part of Wise Guys in a private reading in New York on March 27, and later the authors indicated they were pleased.

"It went extremely well," Weidman told The Sondheim Review. "Everyone was pleased. The reading allowed us to hear what we've got and to hear the tone and style of the piece."

And Sondheim told The Review: "It went very well."

The reading--of a draft of the full script and what were described as "two long songs"--was designed to give producers a chance to get familiar with the project so far. Attending were Roger Berlind, Scott Rudin and two representatives of the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., which has commissioned Sondheim to write the show: Lawrence J. Wilker, president of the Center, and Max Woodward, director of theater programs.

As previously reported, the show is based on the lives of Addison and Wilson Mizner, two brothers whose far-flung and wide-ranging lives included card-sharking and con games during the Yukon Gold Rush, architecture and real estate speculation in Palm Beach, playwriting, boxing management, high society and Hollywood.

The reading took place at Raw Space, 529 W. 42nd St., in New York. The director for the reading was Lori Steinberg, but Sondheim said a director for the production has not been named.

Heading the cast were Broadway veterans Victor Garber (Anthony in Sweeney Todd and Booth in Assassins) as Wilson Mizner; Patrick Quinn as Addison Mizner; Cass Morgan as their mother, and Howard McGillin as Paris Singer, who has been described as Palm Beach's social disciplinarian.

Supporting and ensemble roles were taken by Bob Ari, Candy Buckley, Nick Cokas, Randy Graff, Dee Hoty, Tom Ikeda, Greg Jbara, Norm Lewis, Michael McGrath and Robert Westenberg.

Actors are often asked to participate in a reading to experiment with casting choices, but it is not an indication of casting for the final production.

In a talk at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., on March 9, also reported in The Sondheim Review's Spring issue, Sondheim said the show, which he called a musical comedy, would have a vaudeville technique, since the brothers' lives paralleled the rise and fall of that entertainment form, from the 1880s to the 1930s.

"It's going to be very fast and I think funny," he said. "It's going to say something, I hope, about two kinds of energy this country produces--destructive and constructive--and how they are intertwined, because I think that's what these two guys represent. They also had a very intense personal relationship as well with their mother, which is also very interesting."

Both Sondheim and Weidman are minimizing other things on their schedules to allow intensive time for writing.

-- By Robert Viagas and Paul Salsini
The Sondheim Review

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