The creators of the new musical version of the classic film noir The Sweet Smell of Success are getting a first look at their work this week. The new tuner is being workshopped at producer Livent's fifth annual Summer Festival of New Musicals at York University in Toronto. The two week workshop runs through Aug. 15.
The show is the product of a disparate band of prominent artists, including playwright John Guare, who penned the book; Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the music; Craig Carnelia, the lyricist; and Nicholas Hytner, who is directing.
The workshop is specifically for the benefit of the creative team; no audiences are invited. Livent spokesman Ian Rand said the show had a cast of 18, made up mainly of Canadians. The performers' names were not revealed.
The musical is based on Ernest Lehman's stories and 1957 film, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, which many consider the best film ever made about New York City. Its central characters are J.J. Hunsecker, a venomous, power-hungry columnist patterned after Walter Winchell, and Sidney Falco, an amoral, ladder-climbing press agent scrambling to hitch his wagon to Hunsecker's star. Burt Lancaster played Hunsecker in the film, and Tony Curtis was Falco. Lehman, who co-wrote the 1957 film script with playwright Clifford Odets, is scheduled to co-produce the musical adaptation with Livent and David Brown.
Other Livent projects include Kiss of the Spider Woman, Show Boat, Candide and Ragtime on Broadway, and the Broadway-bound Parade, Fosse and The Seussical.
Nicholas Hytner has directed such production as Carousel, Miss Saigon and the currently running, Lincoln Center production of Twelfth Night starring Helen Hunt. Composer Hamlisch is best known for his Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical classic, A Chorus Line. He also had a long running hit with They're Playing Our Song, but has enjoyed less success with ensuing projects, including Smile and The Goodbye Girl.
Carnelia is perhaps best-known for his songs "Just a Housewife" and others from Working. He wrote Is There Life After High School?, which had a short Broadway run in the early 1980s, but was recorded and has attained a cult following. He recently performed a cabaret act of his songs.
Guare is the award-winning author of Six Degrees of Separation, The House of Blue Leaves, Four Baboons Adoring the Sun and the film Atlantic City. His work will be the subject of a season-long examination by Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre in 1998-99.
The pattern of assembling an eclectic mix of big-gun talent on the creative side and keeping an original author closely involved in the production echoes Livent's successful formula for Ragtime.