Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Tempting Production Model? Not If You Ask the Ones Who Did It!

Here's an article from Variety.com about producing for Broadway.

New "Normal" For Plays? by Gordon Cox

With three Tony Awards and brewing plans for a national tour and a London run, Broadway revival "The Normal Heart" has done pretty well for a last-minute addition to the 2010-11 season.

Factor in the super-quick rehearsal period of two weeks and the low capitalization pricetag of around $1.5 million, and it all starts to look like a potential new model for producing plays.

But not so fast. According to those involved, "Normal Heart" came together with a serendipity unlikely to be re-created, especially given the unusual number of hurdles faced by the production.

"The logistics became more and more complicated as time went on," producer Daryl Roth said.

Roth decided she'd try to mount Larry Kramer's 1985 play, about the early days of the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York, in the wake of a starry benefit reading she produced in October. She secured the participation of two of the reading's stars -- Joe Mantello, the legit helmer who stopped acting soon after he appeared in "Angels in America" in the early 1990s, and John Benjamin Hickey -- but as soon as she did, the benefit's director, Joel Grey, booked a role in the current Roundabout revival of "Anything Goes," complicating his attachment to "Normal."

Even once "Angels" director George C. Wolfe fell into place as the new helmer, the production still didn't have a theater amid a bustling spring 2011 season that saw 22 shows open.

A slot finally freed up when the revival of "Driving Miss Daisy" shuttered at the Golden Theater on April 9. "Normal" loaded into the venue the day after "Daisy" moved out. Previews began April 19 for an April 27 opening, just a day before the cutoff for the season's Tony eligibility.

In what seemed like an unusually coy PR strategy, producers and creatives initially wouldn't say for sure whether "Normal" would more resemble a reading -- like "Salome," the semi-staged Al Pacino topliner Roth produced in 2003 -- or a fully produced show.

That's because they didn't know themselves. With only a couple of weeks of rehearsals for thesps to memorize a wordy script, the team decided that remaining on-book was a real possibility, and David Rockwell's minimal set, dominated by a spare white box, was designed to accommodate whatever form the production assumed.

According to Wolfe, it wasn't until the tenth of the production's 12 rehearsal days that the cast decided to leave the scripts behind and fully stage the show.

The accelerated process was "unnatural," Wolfe said, but there was at least one advantage. "Because of the intensity of the time period, the actors didn't have the luxury to create their characters with their usual techniques," he said. "They're using their emotions in the rawest, most immediate way."

Along with the Tony for play revival, the show scored thesping trophies for Hickey and Ellen Barkin. Mantello was nommed as well. And since the awards attention, box office has jumped significantly. The week after the show opened, weekly sales came in at less than $250,000; for the frame ending June 19, B.O. rang in at $455,000 and attendance hit 99%.

Due to the skeds of all involved, the Main Stem production is slated to close July 10. Interest from other markets, however, has prompted Roth to expect future stints in other U.S. cities, including Washington D.C., and in London, where Elton John is said to be considering signing on as a producer.

Given the show's success, it's natural to wonder whether creatives or producers can imagine mounting another under such tight restraints.

"Two weeks? No," Wolfe said. "Hateful, horrible, never to be repeated. I wouldn't want to tempt the generosity of the theater gods by trying to do it again."

Also likely to put off producers: The show is far from guaranteed to make a profit given its brief run and the relatively low B.O. logged in its early frames on the boards.

Besides, some of that earned income is going to charities including amfAR, Friends in Deed, the Actors Fund and the Human Rights Campaign.

But according to Roth, turning a profit was never the guiding principle. "I wanted it to have a charitable component, and everyone involved is doing this in that generous spirit," she said.

1 comment:

  1. I thought you were going to take a time out until the fall. Glad you've decided to post these most recent offerings.