“I know how it feels to have performance anxiety when playing piano — that was my major in college, I studied for 20 years, I thought I was going to be a conductor and a concert pianist, and that didn’t work out, and it didn’t work out for Oscar either,” he said. “It worked out that he was second banana in a bunch of movies, and I think I’m perceived as that even though the dream is always to lead and not follow.”
And there’s more, Hayes said.
“I don’t have any drug addiction, like he did, but the anxiety — I’m riddled with it, and some of the depression I have, so that’s kind of interesting,” Hayes said. “It’s just a dream come true for an actor to play a character with so many different facets and levels to him — you wish every part that you ever played in your life was as colorful.”
Wright won both a Tony and a Pulitzer in 2004 for his play “I Am My Own Wife,” and he has written the book for four Broadway musicals, including “The Little Mermaid” and “Grey Gardens.” Wright also happened to be the screenwriter for the unproduced Spielberg film about Gershwin, who for a time was a close collaborator with Levant.
“The Chicago run was exhilarating — we learned that Oscar’s humor isn’t dated, that it still feels topical, that it still has the power to shock and delight, and that, as one of the first historical figures to openly talk about his own battles with mental illness, we found audiences really responded to not only his humor but his vulnerability, as well,” Wright said.
“One reason he has been so interesting to explore in the moment is he provokes a lot of questions about the role of humor in a culture — and, when a culture is under siege, what role can humor play,” Wright said. He added, “What are tenable subjects for humor, and doesn’t humor have a certain duty to, at times, rile and offend and invite change?”