A casting dispute prompted Broadway producer John Hart to pull the plug Nov.15 on a $1.65 million commercial transfer of “Company.” The Roundabout Theatre Company’s acclaimed revival of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical was to shutter there on Dec.3 and reopen Dec.19 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The run at the Roundabout, virtually sold out, has been the nonprofit group’s biggest success ever.

At issue was the casting of the central character. The original lead, Boyd Gaines, opened the show in early October despite ongoing vocal problems resulting from illness. Gaines returned to the cast on Nov. 14, after a three-week rest.

During that time, Hart and the “Company” creative team – which included director Scott Ellis and choreographer Rob Marshall – auditioned other actors for the role, a Manhattan bachelor who juggles three girlfriends and a circle of married couples who fawn over, coddle, prod and cajole him. The leading candidate was Michael Rupert, whom Hart wanted to play Bobby when the show reopened at the Atkinson, and who, like Gaines, is a Broadway veteran of considerable stature.

“I understood that the decision would be mine to make, whether Boyd would stay,” says Hart, whose Kardana Prods, has become a key Broadway player in recent seasons. But at a meeting that lasted until midnight Wednesday the “Company” company stood firm in favor of Gaines, and Hart threw in the towel. He says he will lose $200,000 and that the Nederlander Organization, which owns the Atkinson, is out $300,000, most of it from underwriting the Roundabout production.

Hart blames director Ellis for the breach.

“This lands solely on Scott’s shoulders,” Hart says. “What I find stunning is that he’s the captain of the ship. I wasn’t asking to put my cousin in the show. I was afraid that if we moved it with Boyd, we’d have the same problem.”

But Ellis insists that sticking with Gaines was “a group artistic decision” made with Sondheim’s and Furth’s concurrence. Two years ago, Gaines had starred in Ellis’ revival for the Roundabout of “She Loves Me,” which also had transferred to the Atkinson, and for which the actor had won a Tony Award (he’d also won a Tony for “The Heidi Chronicles”).

“We felt we would stick with the show that we created,” Ellis says.

“We couldn’t find a producer,” an angry Sondheim said Nov. 16. “We found an enthusiast in John Hart, but unfortunately, he has no experience as a producer, only as a money man.

“In the case of ‘ Company, ‘ every time we (the show’s creators, stagers, designers, agents, etc.) agreed to his terms, he would ask for more cast replacements, more restaging and rewriting, until it became apparent that he didn’t really want to move the show. My guess is that he couldn’t raise the necessary money. The real lesson of this is that there are no producers anymore. There are dilettantes like John Hart, and there are theater owners.”

Hart insists that a lack of money had nothing to do with his decision to kill the transfer.

While Gaines won mixed reviews for “Company,” the production has been a smash for the Roundabout. The cancellation, however, means not only that the show won’t reach a bigger audience, but that the artists who put it together for very little remuneration have lost the chance to earn financial return on their artistic investment.

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