Kerry Jewel, son of famed English music hall comic and actor Jimmy Jewel, is emerging as the busiest commercial theater producer on Australia’s east coast.

When he puts “Deathtrap” into Sydney’s Footbridge Theater Feb. 25, in a joint venture with theater operator and producer John Frost, Jewel will have three shows in production and three more in preproduction.

He says his production of “Noises Off” grossed up to $A6 million ($4.6 million) this year. By comparison, “Les Miserables” grossed $A41 million from its Sydney and Melbourne runs, with another and expects another $A30 million from its current national tour. And “Phantom Of The Opera,” which recently opened in Melbourne, is now upwards of $A15 million.

“Noises Off,” currently touring, will go into Melbourne’s Comedy Theater in a joint venture with promoter Paul Dainty, and into Perth in partnership with John Thornton.

Jewel says advances for “Nunsense,” which opened Feb. 13 at Sydney’s Glen Street Theater, are a record “half a house booked every day” – $A200,000, at 50% occupancy. On schedule for later this year is “Everybody Loves Opal,” the Martha Raye vehicle which Jewel says is debuting in Oz, and is now casting. He will follow with “Gaslight” and “Run For Your Wife.”

With Aussie commercial legit going through tight times, Jewel says, “The idea is to keep as much product running as you can. ‘Noises Off’ is totally sold to regional theaters for a 10-week tour. All I have to do is make sure the actors turn up to say the words.”

Jewel came through a prior tight period by putting proven hits (such as “Noises Off,” “Deathtrap,” “Nunsense” and “Black Comedy”) into the 400-seat Glen Street Theater in Sydney’s northern suburbs. With his partners, wife Elyse Jewel (daughter of famed U.K. jazz pianist Alan Clare) and Frank Baden-Powell, he underwrites a risk venture of up to $A250,000 ($192,307) for each show.

Jewel says he has a subscription base of 4,000 people for the theater. With party bookings of 2,000, “We’re almost breaking even when we open.”

With the theater a regional venue (even though it’s only a short drive from the city center), he says its lower costs help offset risk. Jewel is “not crazy” about big risks in the major venues because of the higher rental and marketing costs that go with city venues.

For regional exposure, he says, “I take the same risks in percentage terms but it doesn’t cost as much.”

Jewel’s new deal with theater operators is to split the b.o. Right now rental costs are keeping producers out and theaters are dark. Jewel works on the principle that if theater owners take some of the risk they’ll keep their theaters open. The percents of the split vary.

He is also proposing a producers’ association, like the Society of West End Managers. That would provide possibilities such as bulk buying risk and workers compensation insurance, making sure competing shows don’t open on the same nights and lobbying on important issues.

“In our recession we have got to pull together as an industry.”

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