An 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.
Producers had no comment about future plans for the show. It was not clear if Mendes (Cabaret, The Blue Room) would be attached. Mendes' star in Hollywood is ascending since the summer 1999 release of the critically-acclaimed film, "American Beauty," his directorial debut. Variety speculates that the ever-booked Mendes, faced with some free time, will be snapped up for a major film directing deal, possibly a thriller called "The Lookout" for DreamWorks.
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.
Lane and Garber are stage talents well known to theatre audiences. Both Tony-nominated actors (Lane has won), Lane most recently appeared at City Center in the Encores! production of Do, Re, Mi, while Garber's most recent New York role was Art. He recently starred as Daddy Warbucks in TV's "Annie."
Both Sondheim and Weidman are currently represented by other works on the New York theatre scene. The Sondheim revue, Putting It Together, starring Carol Burnett, is at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and Weidman's hit collaboration with choreographer Susan Stroman, Contact, is now playing to capacity audiences at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse and will transfer to the bigger Vivian Beaumont in March 2000.
In a Sept. 12 article written by Sondheim for the New York Times, Sondheim closed by saying, "I have three points I wish to make about Wise Guys:
It's not about the Mafia.
It's a musical comedy
It's here. At last."
-- By Kenneth Jones
and Robert Simonson