To a high-powered Manhattan newspaper columnist like J.J. Hunsecker, Chicago is just the "second city" compared to his beloved Gotham, but, nevertheless, he's in the Windy City Dec. 23, singing in the first preview of the out-of-town tryout of Sweet Smell of Success, at the Shubert Theatre.
John Lithgow (TV's "Third Rock Form the Sun," Hollywood's "The World According to Garp") plays Hunsecker, the egomaniacal 1950s gossip journalist who makes and breaks careers in the dark, cynically comic story first written as a novella by Ernest Lehman. A 1957 film with screenplay by Lehman and Clifford Odets, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis (as a toadying press agent, Sidney Falco), followed. The intermissionless two-hour musical has Titanic's Brian d'Arcy James as the slimy Sidney. The score is by Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Craig Carnelia (lyrics). John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation) is librettist. Nicholas Hytner (Miss Saigon) directs. New York City Ballet's Christopher Wheeldon choreographs.
The musical will run about two hours and will be intermissionless. "The story is really a thriller, that's how it plays," producer Marty Bell told Playbill On-Line from Chicago. "It's hard to interrupt a thriller."
The company of the new musical, Sweet Smell of Success, takes a two day break Dec. 24-25 before resuming performances Dec. 26. Official opening in Chicago is Jan. 13, 2002. Performances continue there to Jan. 27 before a March opening at the Martin Beck Theatre.
Singing and dancing their way through a dark and jazzy Manhattan world of cafe society will be Kelli O'Hara (as J.J.'s sister, Susan), Jack Noseworthy (as musician Dallas, Susan's squeeze) and Stacey Logan (as cigarette girl Rita O'Rourke), with Mark Arvin, David Brummel, Jamie Chandler-Torns, Kate Coffman-Logan, Bernard Dotson, Allen Fitzpatrick, Jennie Ford, Lisa Gajda, Eric Michael Gillett, Laura Griffith, Joanna Glushak, Roy Harcourt, Michelle Kittrell, Jill Nicklaus, Steve Ochoa, Michael Paternostro, Eric Sciotto, Elena L. Shaddow, Drew Taylor and Frank Vlastnik. First Broadway preview will be Feb. 23, 2002. Opening is March 14, 2002.
What attracted producer Marty Bell, one of the producers, to the project?
"When I was kid my parents' coffee table had ashtrays from El Morocco, The Stork Club and 21 and I remember them dressing up and going out," Bell told Playbill On-Line. "I wanted to grow up and go to those places. This show was a chance for me to spend a few years in café society that I never got to be a part of..."
The original motion picture of Sweet Smell of Success was directed by Alexander Mackendrick and also starred Marty Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols, Susan Harrison, Joe Frisco and the Chico Hamilton Quintet. Lehman, once a New York press agent (and later a successful screenwriter) based the character of Hunsecker on all-powerful New York Mirror columnist Walter Winchell. The story, in which Hunsecker sends Falco to bust up his sister's romance with musician Dallas, draws on real life events in which Winchell hounded his daughter Walda's boyfriend until they broke up, he eventually left the country and Walda was committed to a sanitarium.
The film was a flop upon release, but grew in stature over the years and is now considered one of the best films about New York City ever made.
Hamlisch, of course, wrote music for the Pulitzer Prize-winning smash, A Chorus Line, and Carnelia penned music and lyrics for Is There Life After High School? and Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, getting a staging by Goodspeed Musicals in spring. They are working together on a post-Sweet Smell project.
For information about Sweet Smell tickets in Chicago, call (312) 902-1400.