Sondheim's Gold Is Golden at Goodman; Musical to Play June 2003

News   Sondheim's Gold Is Golden at Goodman; Musical to Play June 2003 In June 2003, Stephen Sondheim will finally see the curtain rise on the musical he's been working on for over 40 years. As expected, Chicago's Goodman Theatre has booked Gold for its 2002-03 season, a spokesperson for the theatre confirmed. The show will bow June 13, 2003, and run through July 19. No exact dates or cast have been announced, but Harold Prince is the director.

In June 2003, Stephen Sondheim will finally see the curtain rise on the musical he's been working on for over 40 years. As expected, Chicago's Goodman Theatre has booked Gold for its 2002-03 season, a spokesperson for the theatre confirmed. The show will bow June 13, 2003, and run through July 19. No exact dates or cast have been announced, but Harold Prince is the director.

Back in February, Goodman executive director Roche Schulfer said that there was still room for Gold in the theatre's 2002-03 season.

The announcement is the first happy news to be associated with the tuner in some time. Late last year, a high-profile legal battle between composers Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, and producer Scott Rudin, over the rights to the long in-coming musical Gold, succeeded temporarily in ejecting the show from the Goodman Theatre's hopper. Prior to that, the show languished after an unsuccessful workshop at New York Theatre Workshop.

The play is about the eccentric, real-life brothers, Addison and Wilson Mizner. The Mizners were regarded as risk-taking gamblers who ended up as real estate developers in Florida. Settings in the musical have included Alaska, California, New York City and Boca Raton, FL, which the brothers helped found.

The Goodman recently hosted the high-profile debut of the new Kander and Ebb musical, The Visit, which may reach New York. *

The Goodman also announced that it would stage a new August Wilson drama in 2002-03. The play, Gem of the Ocean, is the ninth play in Wilson's chronicle of the African-American experience in the 20th century. Marion McClinton, who staged King Hedley II and Jitney, will again direct. Dates are April 18 – May 24, 2003.

Gem takes place in the first decade of the century. Press materials describe the plot thusly: "When Citizen Barlow, in spiritual turmoil, arrives at Aunt Ester’s house claiming sanctuary from Caesar, the local constable, he sets into motion a series of events that includes a journey to the City of Bones, which leads to startling discoveries and puts him on a course where duty leads to redemption."

The Main Stage Albert Theatre season will begin with the Chicago premiere of Amy Freed’s comedy, The Beard of Avon, a work once planned for the current season. Two more Albert slots are yet to be filled.

The smaller Owen Stage, meanwhile, will see the Chicago premiere of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero (Oct. 25 – Nov. 24, 2002); and By the Music of the Spheres by Carson Becker and David Barr (Feb. 14 – March 16, 2003), with one extra attraction to come.

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Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls today announced plans for the Goodman Theatre’s 2002-2003 season of plays in both the Albert and Owen theaters. Season highlights in the Albert include the world premiere of Gold!, a new musical by composer Stephen Sondheim and writer John Weidman, staged by Broadway great Harold Prince; the world premiere of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean,; plus the Chicago premiere of Amy Freed’s raucous new comedy, The Beard of Avon, staged by Goodman Resident Director David Petrarca. In the Owen, Robert Falls will direct the Chicago premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s off-Broadway hit, Lobby Hero; and Goodman Resident Director Chuck Smith will stage the world premiere of By the Music of the Spheres, by Carson Becker and David Barr. The Sondheim-Rudin suit was recently settled out of court. According to a Feb. 2 report in the New York Times, Rudin will be paid roughly $160,000 if the show is ever produced. Rudin was the original backer of a failed 1999 workshop production of Gold. The amount specified would cover the expenses he laid out during the New York Theatre Workshop venture.

The Times quoted statements by both parties. Sondheim and Weidman said, "We are pleased to have this lawsuit behind us and we are now looking forward to further developing the show with our director, Hal Prince, and its eventual production." The statement appeared to indicate that Prince, who had exited the project when Rudin threatened suit, was back on board.

Rudin, meanwhile, using the combative tone he employed from the start, said "After instigating a lawsuit against me, Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Weidman have had to agree that they must personally pay me 100 cents on the dollar — the entirety of my investment in 'Gold!' — before they can proceed with a commercial production."

Gold had been scheduled for an out-of-town production at Chicago’s Goodman Theater when the legal battle erupted. Rudin’s statement would seem to say that the composers must pay the $160,000 before embarking on a production, rather than reimburse the producer after the show was on its feet. Also, the adverb “personally” appears to mean that the money would come directly out of Sondheim and Weidman’s pockets, and not from any future producers or producing organization, such as the Goodman.

The resolution brings to an end one of the nastiest and most public skirmishes to hit the theatre world in years. Gold was once called Wise Guys and a hot prospect for Broadway a couple seasons back. It 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.

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.

As the Goodman prepared to stage the next version of Gold, Rudin stepped forward claiming he owned the rights to the work. He sent the composers a "cease and desist" letter and said he would sue if the production went forward. Rudin's lawyer used the provisional state of the script during the NYTW workshop toward an argument that Rudin was never given the opportunity to fully exercise his rights. Without a finished work, the defense went, Rudin could not move forward to production. Thus, he felt he still owned the rights to the project. Rudin and his other partners poured $600,000 into the project and paid the composers' expenses, the Times reported.

Sondheim and Weidman protested that the rights to the work have reverted back to them. The also said the “cease and desist” letters scared the Goodman and Prince off the project.

Following Rudin's initial interference, Sondheim and Weidman filed a $5 million lawsuit against producer Scott Rudin on Nov. 20, citing "intentional malicious and wrongful interference." The suit said Rudin claimed he held 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."

In December, the composers secured an injunction against Rudin. The ruling was delivered by Justice Ira Gammerman in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Dec. 5. "I don't think he has any rights," said Gammerman of Rudin. "I'm looking for a piece of paper. I'm looking for an agreement between Rudin and Sondheim, and I don't see it."

However, Rudin filed an $8 million countersuit the next day, claiming breach of contract and fraud. Rudin's claim to rights to the show remained part of the suit, though the court's injunction prevent him from claiming "exclusive" rights to Gold!.

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.

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.

—By Robert Simonson