John Cassavetes' 1977 film Opening Night is coming to the stage as a new musical, featuring music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright and a book by Ivo Van Hove, who is also directing. The work will play the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End with performances beginning March 6, 2024. Billed as "strictly limited," the run will continue through July 27.
Sheridan Smith will star as Myrtle, a famous actor sent into turmoil after witnessing the sudden death of one of her fans while starring in a new Broadway play. The project was conceived by Van Hove.
"The chance to work with the musical genius that is Rufus Wainwright and one of the world’s greatest stage directors Ivo van Hove was a once in a life time opportunity, and quite frankly if they’d asked me to read out the back of a cereal packet I’d have been there!," said Smith in a statement. "But, I couldn’t be more thrilled to be cast in this fantastic original musical and to play the complex and challenging character of Myrtle."
"For me John Cassavetes’s movie Opening Night has long been a shining beacon representing both excellence in cinema and the might of live theatre," adds Wainwright in a statement. "An intense marriage of film and stage, it is about a very personal mental and creative survival that I think we can all relate to on a very deep human level. I’ve been waiting for ages to write my first musical and with this fantastic story plus the incomparable Sheridan Smith, not to mention the incredible Ivo van Hove, I don’t think I could have aimed any higher."
The production will feature lighting and video design by Jan Versweyveld, costume design by An D'Huys, and sound design by Tom Gibbons and Alex Twiselton. Wainwright is penning his own orchestrations, with Nigel Lilley handling music supervision and music direction. Movement and choreography will be by Polly Bennett. Casting is by Julia Horan.
"After the success of A Little Life, I am thrilled to return to the West End together with Wessex Grove to create a new musical," says Van Hove in a statement. "It is a dream come true to collaborate with the wonderful Rufus Wainwright, whose work I have been a fan of for so many years. We connected over our shared love of the incredible John Casavettes film Opening Night and it has long been an ambition of ours to bring a musical version to the stage. Opening Night not only gives us an insight into the trials and tribulations behind the scenes of the theatre, but it is also the heartbreaking story of a woman fighting for hope and self-determination in a world that doesn’t want to listen."
According to a statement from producers Benjamin Lowy and Emily Vaughan-Barratt of Wessex Grove, the project has been in the works since 2020. "Deep in the early lockdowns of 2020, just after forming our company, we zoomed with Ivo and Rufus about turning Opening Night into a musical," says Lowy and Vaughan-Barratt. "It was a thrilling idea they had, and that conversation turned into the first commission Wessex Grove made. Rufus has written the most extraordinary original music and it is a joy for us to be reuniting with Ivo after the success of A Little Life earlier this year. Opening Night is a show about making theatre in all its forms; the heartbreaks, the turmoil, and the pure joy of it. We couldn’t be luckier to have one of our great theatrical stars, Sheridan Smith, leading the cast of this new musical."