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B'way Loses Its Bounce

After having played two tryout runs in Chicago and Washington D.C. to mixed to negative overall reviews, producers have confirmed that Bounce, the first new musical from Stephen Sondheim in nine years, will not be seen on Broadway anytime soon.

The decision not to transfer the show to Broadway is yet another stumbling block for the musical whose history goes back to the early 1950's.

 
  Photo Liz Lauren
Richard Kind & Howard McGillin
The premiere of Bounce was directed by long-term associate Harold Prince. Bounce has taken on several titles in its development including Wise Guys and Gold!. On this latest change Prince said, "The abiding message of the show is that the best of America is pioneering - that we have an uncommon resilience, and the ability to reinvent ourselves. We believe Bounce reflects that, and Steve Sondheim's opening number is 'Bounce.'"

The cast of the premiere included Richard Kind and Howard McGillin in the leading roles of Addison and Wilson Mizner. Michele Pawk as Nellie, Jane Powell and Herndon Lackey play Mama and Papa Mizner respectively, with Gavin Creel as Hollis Bessemer.

  
Palm Beach Historical Society
Wilson and Addison Mizner
 
Bounce is set in turn of the century America, in the whirlwind rush for gold, a time when the opportunity that embodies the American Dream was at its most limitless. The musical follows the adventures of brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner, both seeking their fortune by honouring the advice of their papa, Lansing Mizner, and Mama Mizner. Bounce is the story of American men and women grabbing at their chance of fortune, women like Nellie, a Gold rush dance hall girl who marries well - again and again.

The musical has faced many obstacles since its workshop in 1999 with Sam Mendes directing the then Wise Guys with Nathan Lane and Victor Garbor. Though a Broadway theatre had been booked the workshop was a failure with doubts being cast on whether the show would continue. Harold Prince stepped in to replace Mendes and Sondheim and Weidman continued work on what was now named Gold!.

In October of 2001, Chicago's Goodman Theatre had agreed to present the musical and had set an opening date of September 2002. Soon after, Rudin threatened legal action if the production proceeded. Cease and desist orders were sent on behalf of Rudin threatening legal action leading to the creator's lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that Rudin's letters, in effect, killed the Goodman production because "both Prince and the Goodman notified Sondheim and Weidman that they [were therefore] unwilling to go forward with the scheduled production." The writers asked the court for at least $5 million in economic-loss damages, including loss of profits if the production were to not go forward. They also saught at least $5 million in punitive damages and registered an injunction against Rudin to keep him from blocking the production.

  
Scott Rudin  
The suit also asked the court to "terminate defendant Rudin's intentional, malicious and wrongful interference" including Rudin's "cease and desist" letters "claiming to have an exclusive right to exploit the work in a theatrical presentation." The author's claimed that exclusive rights would have had to have been given in writing and that "no such writing exists." They went on to suggest that Rudin's "tortuous actions" interfered with their scheduled Goodman production and that, as a result, "no other reputable producer will invest in or otherwise develop and exploit the work."

On December 4, 2001, State Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman granted a request for a preliminary injunction in favor of Sondheim and Weidman ordering producer Scott Rudin to cease claiming exclusive rights to Gold! their theatrical work in progress.

Rudin had claimed ownership of the musicals rights stating that the authors failed to deliver a completed script on schedule. Sondheim and Weidman filed a $10 million suit against Rudin in New York State Supreme Court on November 30, 2001. They argued that neither Rudin, nor his company RudinPlay, Inc., had taken the proper contractual actions to obtain the production's rights.

On December 5, 2001, Rudin countersued, citing fraud and breach of contract, seeking nearly $8 million in damages. The parties began discussing a settlement soon after.

Sondheim had worked on the concept of a Mizner musical over forty years ago. In the 1950's, he began work on a musical based on the book "The Legendary Mizners" in which he envisioned one of the musical's characters a guitar playing balladeer. He soon abandoned work on this show, though he got his guitar playing balladeer in Assassins.

Irving Berlin also toyed with a Mizner musical. Titles considered included "Sentimental Guy", "The Mizner Story," and "Wise Guy." Four songs written or intended for this work were recorded on Unsung Irving Berlin.

Stephen Banfield's Sondheim's Broadway Musicals reports that Sondheim's plans for a musical about the Mizner brothers was discussed with Oscar Hammerstein as early as 1953 and remained active until after 1956 "when David Merrick, for purposes of comparison, sent Sondheim a script by Sam Behrman of Irving Berlin's unproduced musical."

This time around, Sondheim and Weidman were commissioned by the Kennedy Center to write Wise Guys. They centered the show around the life of Wilson and Addison Mizner which paralelled the life of vaudeville from its rise in the 1880's to its death in the 1930's. According to Sondheim, the first act will be very episodic with many short scenes, whereas the second act will be more linear.

- Update by contributing writer Sarah Beaumont


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