Representatives for Broadway's upcoming Good Night, Oscar are speaking out following allegations of artistic stifling from playwright David Adjmi.
Writing in an October 4 public Facebook post, Adjmi shares that he was originally on board to write the play about actor and pianist Oscar Levant as a vehicle for Hayes. In the post, Adjmi contends that he refused to make changes that would "lighten the material" at the request of Hayes and producer Beth Williams, after which the producer worked to prevent Adjmi from developing his version of the script elsewhere while their own, new version, penned by playwright Doug Wright, was in development. Wright's take on the work had its world premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theatre with Hayes in the title role earlier this year and will be the script used for the Broadway bow when it begins at the Belasco Theatre in 2023.
In a statement obtained by Playbill, the production disputes Adjmi's version of events, sharing that "[t]here was no encumbrance on David Adjmi proceeding with his play after the option period he was paid for expired." The production also takes issue with Adjmi's assertions that it had been Adjmi's idea for Hayes to play Levant to begin with and that Adjmi had asked Wright to ask that Williams release Adjmi's option as a condition of joining the project or turn down the assignment. The production quotes Wright as remembering that Adjmi "was gracious in telling me that I should accept the assignment." The production's statement is included in full below.
Under the direction of Lisa Peterson, Hayes is set to be joined by Emily Bergl (The Ferryman) as June Levant, Peter Grosz (Veep) as network executive Bob Sarnoff, Ben Rappaport (Fiddler on the Roof and Picnic) as TV host Jack Paar, and John Zdrojeski (Heroes of the Fourth Turning) as George Gershwin when Wright's Good Night, Oscar begins at Broadway's Belasco Theatre April 7.
The play is set in 1958 while Jack Paar is hosting The Tonight Show. He’s booked his favorite guest, Oscar Levant. In 90 minutes, Levant will have audiences howling, censors scrambling, and—when it’s all over—America will be just a little less innocent than she was before.
As for Adjmi's Levant play, the playwright shares in the Facebook post that it was excerpted in The Paris Review in 2021 and has been in development at a "fancy (though not very fleet)" NYC theatre, sharing that his agent has told him it's likely no New York theatre will be interested in it following the staging of Wright's play.
Read the full statement from the Broadway production of Good Night, Oscar, dated October 6:
"Statement from the Good Night, Oscar Broadway production:
"Sean Hayes, producer Beth Williams and playwright Doug Wright were saddened to read Mr. Adjmi’s recounting of his experience working on a play about Oscar Levant in a social media post on Tuesday, October 4.
"In 2010, after working together on Promises, Promises, Mr. Hayes and Ms. Williams discussed developing a project around Mr. Hayes’ long-held interest in Oscar Levant’s story. David Adjmi was chosen from a list of writers to develop a script in 2012. It was Mr. Hayes’ longstanding interest in Oscar Levant that was the genesis of the collaboration.
"Mr. Hayes’ interest in Oscar Levant in fact went back further. In 2009 he had commissioned a photograph of himself as Mr. Levant, with the intent of auditioning for the part of Oscar Levant in a film about George Gershwin that was being developed at the time, that never actually went into production.
"After working on the script for roughly two years, it became clear that Mr. Hayes and Mr. Adjmi had different creative visions. The decision was made by the production to sever ties with Mr. Adjmi and both parties understood that each party would continue developing plays based on Oscar Levant. There was no encumbrance on David Adjmi proceeding with his play after the option period he was paid for expired.
"In 2015, Doug Wright was approached by Ms. Williams to write a play about Oscar Levant and before Mr. Wright would agree to speak with the producers, he made it clear that he could not entertain the idea until he’d spoken with David Adjmi.
"As Mr. Wright recalls, 'I telephoned David and we had a cordial conversation. I urged him to be candid with me and made a point of suggesting that I didn’t want to create awkwardness or ill-feeling with a fellow playwright. He assured me this was not the case and was gracious in telling me that I should accept the assignment.'
"'He told me that he might continue to actively pursue a production for his script and I assured him that was fine by me.' Mr. Wright has confirmed that over the last seven years he has had occasional email communication with David Adjmi and had even updated him about his Levant project, specifically.
"We wish Mr. Adjmi well with his endeavors."