THE opening of Wise Guys,
the new musical by Sondheim and John Weidman commissioned by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, has been delayed. The production was scheduled to open on June 30 1997, then fall 1997, and now sometime in the 1998-1999 season. Wise held a reading, in New York City, in 1997. Victor Garber, (Sweeney Todd, Assassins) lead the showcase of several songs. The "Wise Guys" title may also be changed as it was only devised for the Center's use in production marketing.
In an article by Greg Evans in the January 13, 1997 edition of Variety, producer Roger Berlind reports, "I've been interested in this story for 15 or 20 years." The article goes on to say that "the libretto should be on paper in the next week or two."
Playbill On-Line reported that on December 11th, Sondheim stated that Wise Guys was progressing well. "We started with the second act first, and now I'm going back and working on material for the first, including the opening." The report goes on to say that Sondheim has been aware of the show's theme since he was 22 years old, but refuses to disclose what it is.
What is known is that the life of Wilson and Addison Mizner parallels 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.
What's interesting is that Sondheim had worked on the concept of a Mizner musical over 40 years ago. In the 1950's, he apparently began and soon abandoned a musical based on the book "The Legendary Mizners" with one of the characters written to be a guitar balladeer. Sound familiar?
Irving Berlin also worked on a Mizner musical during this period variously titled Sentimental Guy, The Mizner Story, and, Wise Guy. Four songs written or intended for this work were recently recorded for Varese Sarabande's "Unsung Irving Berlin."
From Stephen Banfield's, Sondheim's Broadway Musicals:
"Plans for a musical about the roguish Mizner brothers (Addison and Wilson) had been discussed with Hammerstein as early as 1953, the year the book The Legendary Mizners by Alva Johnston appeared, and seem to have remained alive until some time after 1956, when David Merrick, for purposes of comparison, sent Sondheim a script by Sam Behrman of Irving Berlin's unproduced musical Sentimental Guy, similarly based on Johnston's book. Sondheim produced a detailed scheme of scenes and numbers. There are also a few short music sketches, and a charming song, doubtless intended to be the first, depicting Mrs. Mizner's genteel tea, "Afternoon in Benicia," whose draft breaks off after fifty-two measures. The project proceeded no farther than this."
Until forty years later!