After an enormous initial fanfare and more than four years of expectation that the new Stephen Sondheim musical would premiere at the Kennedy Center, the show is apparently headed for a Broadway debut next spring--with no stop in Washington.
John Barlow, a publicist for the new musical comedy, stated flatly yesterday that " 'Wiseguys' is scheduled for a premiere in New York in the spring."
But the show, commissioned by the Kennedy Center in 1995 in honor of its 25th-anniversary season, has no booking at the center, nor does one seem to be in the offing.
Despite the full-speed-ahead talk out of New York yesterday, Lawrence J. Wilker, president of the Kennedy Center, which remains as one of its producers, insisted that things weren't quite set in stone. A full workshop production, set for New York in the fall, will determine whether the musical is ready for any stage, he said. "We have to see the work on its feet."
The show also hasn't booked a house in New York, where theater space is at a premium, but that is true of a number of productions that hope to land on Broadway in the coming season. And room is very tight at the Kennedy Center as well. "We don't have an available theater if it were ready," Wilker said. "We don't have a theater until the fall of 2000. We wouldn't have a theater sooner because with the Washington Opera playing in the Opera House for 26 weeks, it leaves very little time to bring in a new big production."
When the center commissioned the work from Sondheim, one of the most acclaimed composers in American musical theater, officials said they hoped it would be ready in the fall of 1996. Center officials have continued to insist that they are optimistic about the show throughout its long incubation period, though in spring 1998 they left it off their announcement of coming attractions for the fall season. The show was likewise nowhere to be found on last spring's announcement for the upcoming Millennium Season.
Theatrical publications are listing "Wiseguys" as a good bet for Broadway next spring under the direction of Sam Mendes, who was nominated for a Tony for his "Cabaret" revival and recently did the much-talked-about "Blue Room" with Nicole Kidman. Set to play the leads are the award-winning Nathan Lane, Victor Garber, Howard McGlinn and Lauren Mitchell.
Sondheim, who was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1993, began making his mark on musical theater in the 1950s with his lyrics for the landmark "West Side Story" and "Gypsy." In 1962 "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," for which he wrote both music and lyrics, solidified his stamp on Broadway. That show was followed by some of the finest musicals of recent decades, including "Company," "Follies," "A Little Night Music," "Sweeney Todd," "Sunday in the Park With George," "Into the Woods" and "Passion," which have given audiences memorable songs, ignited lustrous careers and won Sondheim several Tony Awards.
"Wiseguys" follows the lives of the real-life Addison and Wilson Mizner, two turn-of-the-century characters who led eccentric and flamboyant lives. Addison was an architect for the rich; Wilson was an adventurer and con man. The book for the show was written by John Weidman.