EXCLUSIVE: The long-aborning musical adaptation of John Berendt’s Georgia-drenched best-seller Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil moved closer to reality with a reading last week overseen by Rob Ashford and cast that included Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), Leslie Uggams, Peter Cincotti, Jessica Molaskey, Michael Park and Jake Robinson (The Carrie Diaries, upcoming in HBO’s The Leftovers and NBC’s Odyssey). Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) is the writer; composer and sound designer Mark Bennett is overseeing the the score, which will use standards and lesser-known songs from the American songbook, notably from such Johnny Mercer-lyrics as “In The Cool Cool Cool Of The Evening” as well as more contemporary Southern rock, blues and gospel. I’m told that the reading went so well that a formal two-week workshop is set for September, with dates to be announced.
Producers Craig Haffner and and Anne Hamburger are thinking about opening in London next year before bring the show to Broadway. Ashford has had his hands full of late, co-directing the stadium-scale Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh at the Park Avenue Armory and laying plans for the NBC live telecast of Peter Pan in the wake of his successful outing with The Sound Of Music. (Not so successful: A Million Ways To Die In The West, which needed only one weekend to die everywhere.) Ashford’s been attached to the Midnight project since it was first announced a couple of years ago, as have Uhry and musical director Bennett, who provided music for the acclaimed Vanessa Redgrave/James Earl Jones Broadway premiere of Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winner in 2010. Set in 1981 at and around Mercer House, the Savannah residence once owned by the songwriter’s great-grandfather, Midnight concerns the real-life death of call-boy Danny Hansford and his accused murderer and ex-lover, antiques dealer Jim Williams. Savannah color is provided by such denizens as The Lady Chablis, the Voodoo priestess Minerva and Sonny Seiler, whose bulldogs are the University of Georgia mascots.