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John Weidman

John Weidman

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Also Known As: John Whitney Weidman Died:
Born: Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Profession: playwright, librettist, magazine editor (The National Lampoon), journalist, attorney, teacher

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A perennial Daytime Emmy-winner for his contributions to PBS' long-running "Sesame Street", John Weidman followed in the footsteps of his Pulitzer Prize-winning (for the book of the musical "Fiorello!") playwright father Jerome Weidman when he supplied the Tony-nominated book for composer Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" (1976), a look into cultural imperialism covering 120 years of Japanese history beginning with US Commodore Matthew Perry's visit there in 1853. A year after he began writing for "Sesame Street" in 1986, he collaborated with Timothy Crouse on the revised book for the Tony-winning revival of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" at Lincoln Center. For his second collaboration with Sondheim, "Assassins" (1990-91) he provided a furious, passionate libretto that, together with the music, addressed the brutal solitude of life in America and the vulgar despair of its assassins (i.e., John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald) and would-be assassins (i.e., Squeaky Fromme, John W. Hinckley Jr). Though it failed to meet with much favor Off-Broadway, "Assassins" fared better in London, winning the London Drama Critics' Award as Best Musical. Weidman earned another Tony nomination for the book of the...

A perennial Daytime Emmy-winner for his contributions to PBS' long-running "Sesame Street", John Weidman followed in the footsteps of his Pulitzer Prize-winning (for the book of the musical "Fiorello!") playwright father Jerome Weidman when he supplied the Tony-nominated book for composer Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" (1976), a look into cultural imperialism covering 120 years of Japanese history beginning with US Commodore Matthew Perry's visit there in 1853. A year after he began writing for "Sesame Street" in 1986, he collaborated with Timothy Crouse on the revised book for the Tony-winning revival of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" at Lincoln Center. For his second collaboration with Sondheim, "Assassins" (1990-91) he provided a furious, passionate libretto that, together with the music, addressed the brutal solitude of life in America and the vulgar despair of its assassins (i.e., John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald) and would-be assassins (i.e., Squeaky Fromme, John W. Hinckley Jr). Though it failed to meet with much favor Off-Broadway, "Assassins" fared better in London, winning the London Drama Critics' Award as Best Musical.

Weidman earned another Tony nomination for the book of the musical "Big" (1996), based on the popular Penny Marshall movie starring Tom Hanks. An abysmal failure despite its slick veneer and marketing push from F.A.O. Schwarz, "Big" introduced him to choreographer Susan Stroman, with whom he would collaborate on "Contact" (1999), a hybrid of dance and dialogue, movement and metaphor, opening to critical acclaim Off-Broadway as "A Dance Play". Featuring a recorded score that moved from swing to ballet and back to swing again, "Contact" emphasized the difficulty humans have making contact, both physical and emotionally, in three very distinct stories, and its move to Broadway brought Weidman another Tony nomination for his libretto. Regrettably, "Wise Guys", on which he had worked with Sondheim since 1995, did not open as planned in the spring of 2000, following three weeks of work-in-progress presentations attended by audiences (but not critics) at the New York Theatre Workshop in Greenwich Village.

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1958:
At age 12, first met producer-director Harold Prince
1965:
Began writing a play based on the opening of Japan to the west after taking a history class at Harvard
1968:
After college, worked for three years as a teacher at I S 108 in Harlem in order to avoid the draft
:
Began contributing articles to <i>The National Lampoon</i>
:
During first year of law school, decided not to pursue a career as an attorney
:
Began working with Harold Prince to develop idea about Japan into a full-length drama
:
Passed bar exam after graduating law school; did occasional pro bono work for <i>The National Lampoon</i>
:
Appointed editor of <i>The National Lampoon</i>
:
Shortly before going into production with play about 19th-century Japan opening up to the west, Prince suggested turning material into a musical
1976:
First collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, writing the episodic book for "Pacific Overtures", produced and directed by Prince; received Tony nomination for Book of a Musical
1979:
Penned libretto for ill-fatred musical "America's Sweetheart" with a score by Robert Waldman (music) and Alfred Uhry (lyrics)
1986:
Began writing for PBS' "Sesame Street"; won several Daytime Emmy Awards
1987:
Co-wrote (with Timothy Crouse) the revised book for the Tony-winning revival of "Anything Goes" at NYC's Lincoln Center
1990:
Reteamed with Sondheim on "Assassins", a dark look at presidential assassins and would-be assassins; produced unsuccessfully Off-Broadway but to more acclaim in London under Sam Mendes' direction
1996:
Garnered Tony nomination for book of the musical "Big", a commercial flop based on the hit film starring Tom Hanks; first collaboration with choreographer Susan Stroman
1999:
Co-authored (with Stroman) "Contact", which called itself "A Dance Play" when it opened Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center; "dance play" tag dropped when it moved "upstairs" to Broadway in 2000; earned Tony nomination for libretto
2000:
"Wise Guys", a musical he had been working on with Sondheim since 1995, deemed not ready for production after three weeks of work-in-progress presentations (directed by Mendes) at the New York Theatre Workshop in NYC's Greenwich Village; Nathan Lane and Victor Garber starred in the title roles; reportedly Harold Prince would review material for possible future staging
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Education

Harvard University: Cambridge , Massachusetts - 1968
School of Law, Yale University: New Haven , Connecticut - 1974

Notes

On co-creating "Contact" with choreographer Susan Stroman: "What is exciting is that the basic storytelling language is dance, and we had to use spoken language to serve that purpose and support it. In that sense, it's not that different from writing the book of a musical. Instead of people bursting into song, with music and lyrics being the primary method for storytelling, here it's dance. I love collaborating. The most productive, terrific collaboration of my career has been with Steve Sondheim, which is a collaboration with another writer. When Stro called me, I thought, 'This is going to be great.' Fitting what I do with her movement and dance was a fabulous opportunity--incredibly satisfying." --John Weidman to Robert Sandla for InTheater, October 25-November 1, 1999

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Lila Weidman.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Jerome Weidman. Novelist, short story writer, playwright. Born on April 4, 1913; won Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for musical "Fiorello!"; died on October 6, 1998.
mother:
Peggy Weidman.
brother:
Jeffrey Weidman. Older.
daughter:
Laura Weidman.
son:
Jonathan Weidman.
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