The last time a big new musical based on a classic film tested its wings here before heading to Broadway, the result was the megahit The Producers. Now a group of producing partners–including veteran screenwriter Ernest Lehman–has chosen Chicago for the world premiere of Sweet Smell of Success, a stage adaptation of the 1957 movie Lehman scripted with Clifford Odets. Lehman, whose Hollywood credits include North by Northwest and West Side Story, has long wanted to see his sardonic tale of a ruthless gossip columnist and a crooked press agent onstage. He and his colleagues have hired some top-flight talent: John Lithgow stars in the role Burt Lancaster played on-screen (modeled on columnist Walter Winchell), composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Craig Carnelia penned the songs, and John Guare authored the script. (But beware: though Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation is a masterpiece, his Moon Under Miami was a disaster when Remains Theatre produced it here some years ago.) British director Nicholas Hytner, whose skill has enhanced good material (The Madness of King George) and improved weaker fare (Miss Saigon), once again teams up with brilliant visual designer Bob Crowley (his partner on much admired revivals of An Inspector Calls and Carousel). Like The Producers, Sweet Smell will play several weeks of previews, during which the creators will fine-tune the material, before its official opening in January. It remains to be seen whether critics will smell success in the air or blood in the water, but those willing to plunk down big bucks to check out a work in progress–and be part of the testing process crucial to any new musical–might want to include this on their holiday to-do list. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1400. Previews December 23-January 12: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursday, December 27, and Wednesday, January 9, 2 and 7:30 PM; no show Tuesday, December 25. $35-$75.50. Opens Sunday, January 13, 7:30 PM. Through January 27: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Sunday, January 27, 2 PM only. $37-$77.50.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nigel Parry.