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.
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.
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.
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
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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