“Anything Goes” For John Weidman

In the 1950s, John Weidman was a very good Westport Little League shortstop (the Jaguars, if it still matters).  He memorized “zillions” of TV commercials, a former teammate says, and recited them on the field during lulls in action.

Then he realized:  “There are no major league players from Westport.”

John Weidman

But there was more than baseball in his future.  As the son of Jerome Weidman — author of I Can Get It for You Wholesale — he gravitated toward writing.  At Harvard he befriended 1968 classmate Timothy Crouse.  They co-wrote a Hasty Pudding show.

Despite earning a law degree from Yale (where one of his classmates was Clarence Thomas), he circled back to writing.  On a whim he wrote Hal Prince with an idea.  The producer gave him $500; Weidman wrote “Pacific Overtures,” which Prince then handed over to Stephen Sondheim to turn into a musical.

Weidman kept writing:  for National Lampoon, “Sesame Street,” then a revision — with Timothy Crouse — of Crouse’s father’s “Anything Goes.”

The Weidman-Sondheim collaboration continued with “Assassins” in 1990, and “Road Show” in 2008.  Weidman was nominated for 3 Tony Awards (and won for “Contact”); he also won a dozen Emmys for “Sesame Street.”  He’s served 10 years as president of the Dramatists Guild.

Most recently he’s worked on the re-re-revision of “Anything Goes,” which the New York Times called “zesty.”  It’s currently playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theater.

That’s a nice little story — local boy makes good — but there’s another town connection even many long-time residents may not know:

Back in his teenage days, Stephen Sondheim was an apprentice at the Westport Country Playhouse.

The Weidman-Sondheim connection goes further than even they may realize.

10 responses to ““Anything Goes” For John Weidman

  1. Wow. I knew about Weidman’s Westport connection (although I did not know the whole story. So thanks for providing that). But I had never heard about Sondheim’s apprenticeship here.

  2. Wow, thanks so much for that story. The current revival of “Anything Goes” is just wonderful and I am a big fan of “Assassins,” not to exclude ” Sesame Street,” which I enjoyed at least as much as my children. I admire people with this sort of talent and I especially appreciate Weidman’s personal story, which just goes to show how many different and wonderful things one person can do if one dares to imagine-

  3. The Dude Abides

    I was also a short stop for the Marauders in the early 60’s. I am still waiting to be drafted. I also have a law degree and write for a living. But that is where the commonality stops. John works with Sondheim. I drove around Hunter Thompson once. Nice piece. Thanks.

  4. Good story, Dan. Jerome Weidman and his two sons, John and Jerry, lived a few houses up Treadwell Avenue from me in the 50s. I played with John on the Jaguars where he was indeed a very good shortstop. I stumbled over his name on the masthead of the early National Lampoon where he was listed with Doug Kenney as a co-founder and followed John’s Broadway career ever since, and a great one it’s been. Haven’t seen him since he moved circa 1960. Most of all he loved to recite the commercials for Pall Mall cigrarettes between pitches, “Satisfying….and they are mild!” Dude, he got the winning hit off your bro in the ’58 title game at Gault Field. You both should have been drafted, but then Broadway and the mystery novel genre would have been the poorer!

  5. Great for John. He’s accomplished much and can boast of a lot. But I wouldn’t tell my best friend ( or worst enemy ) that i want to college with Clarence Thomas.

  6. I’m confused. Cole Porter wrote ‘Anything Goes’ and I believe the first performance was in 1934. How does Timothy Crouse’s father play into this story?

  7. I did not know that John Weidman was from Westport! Hey, Mr. Weidman, want to come talk to the Staples Players?

    I did know about Sondheim’s apprenticeship… he worked there while spending the summer at the Hammersteins (of Oscar fame) in Connecticut…

  8. I know John Weidman from the ’87 revival of “Anything Goes” and the national tour. On top of all of his accomplishments, there isn’t a nicer guy in show business! I had no idea he grew up here.
    On another note, Staples Players might like to know that living in our community quietly (oops, maybe not anymore) with his wife and son is Chris Peterson, a wonderful dancer and choreographer who has been the associate or assistant choreographer to Susan Stroman on a number of Broadway shows, including John Weidman’s show, “Contact”.

  9. Fantastic story. There are just so many Broadway (and the arts in general) connections to this town. Fantastic! I worry that we don’t understand the P&Z elected officials and the height of our buildings are not the only part of Westport worth preserving.

    I grew up in Westport with parents who both spent their careers in NYC theatre. When they had 3 kids in school and my mother took a job as a receptionist at a local real estate office, I guarantee the agents who threw paperwork at her had no idea of her career on Broadway in such iconic shows as Annie get your Gun or Brigadoon and so many others. Or if some of the newer financial services homeowners know the handsome older gentleman they see around town worked on such great shows as Brigadoon (hmm), Two on the Aisle, The Sound of Music, L’ill Abner (to name only a few) and helped cut the ribbon at the NY State Theatre. Neighbors like Mr. Weidman and others who shaped the arts are Westport treasures and protecting our arts legacy has to be as important as the location of the YMCA or traffic patterns.

    This brings me to my unpopular point, which I have shared with Dan privately. What role should the Westport Country Playhouse play?

    My folks are in their 80’s and have absolutely no connection to the Playhouse which I think is a shame. Additionally, all the fund raising events we read about in Westport Magazine with pictures of the same Westport retailer each month in black tie would definitely be more interesting if some of Westport’s legacy arts community were there. I feel the same about the lobby of the poorly attended Playhouse shows at intermission. Haven’t some of these folks eared a lifetime backstage pass? How does the town opt these folks in? Where’s the registry?

    Thanks again for a great article and I apologize for my soapbox, but this is just such an interesting town filled with great stories like Dan’s here about Mr. Weidman. Just stop my mother or father and ask. BTW, you can find my mom playing bridge at the senior center and you can set your watch my dad’s visit to the Westport transfer station!