Ever since singer-songwriter Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident, Jan. 5, 1998, plans for a musical based on his career with Cher were stalled by legalities. Solving rights issues has taken up the better part of three years, and prospects for the show remain no better than they were when news of a Bono-based tuner first hit the media just after his death.
As such, producer Manny Kladitis told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 7) that the project is basically dead. "It just hasn't happened. Lots and lots of approvals are needed. When a person's alive, and he approves use of his name, his music, that's fine. But when it goes to a family, with kids and everything, it becomes a long process. If someday they come back with approvals and we can proceed, fine. But for now it's just not happening."
Singer-songwriter Bono died without a will, so his estate was in probate for several months. Kladitis said back in November 1999 that Bono's widow, Mary Bono, gave her approval for use of Sonny's songs in the musical and was just about to sign an agreement when lawyers realized that Bono's two grown children co-owned rights to the tunes along with her. That meant two other sets of lawyers — and months of further paperwork.
"We can't proceed, we can't put money into it...until all this is ironed out," Kladitis told PBOL at the time (Nov. 1999). "But we've got our lawyers working on it, and within the next year-and-a-half-to-two years, we'll get it started. Probably with a LORT [League of Regional Theatres] production."
For his part, producer Kladitis has turned his attention to such other projects as the Saturday Night Fever tour, the Best Little Whorehouse tour with Ann-Margret, and National Actors Theatre's soon-to-open Judgment at Nuremberg. *
Here's the backstory on Beat:
In January 1998, producer Kladitis told the New York Post, "Sonny himself approved of the project. He did not want to perform, but he was absolutely gung-ho about it. He was going to be a consultant, and we were going to use his music." Songs in The Beat Goes On would be early hits as well as trunk songs Bono penned during the "Sonny & Cher Show" years.
How did the project germinate? "About a year ago I first met with Sonny," said Kladitis at the time. "He had been talking to Tony Pantozzi (a William Morris agent at the time). Tony brought it to me; I liked the idea. Then Chris Beard and Alan Blye were brought in for the book and to write new lyrics to some of the songs." Beard & Blye were head writers on "The Sonny & Cher Show," as well as for "Laugh-In."
Asked if Cher had given her approval for the project, Kladitis said, "It was way too early, so there was no reason for Cher's approval. And mostly, the show is through the eyes of Sonny... I'd like to see it go forward, it's an interesting project," said Kladitis, "especially since it covers the Vietnam war in the 1970s."
Asked his opinion of Bono as a man and an artist, Kladitis said, "I thought he was a very gentle, soft man. Not soft in a bad way -- he was a good businessman, obviously. But he wasn't harsh or difficult ...always smiling. And he had a lot of input and ideas and was very excited about the project."
"Reports talk about Sonny being a joke," continued Kladitis, "but his music withstood time. It still works. That's the best test of a good song."
-- By David Lefkowitz