Inspector’ Calling At Int’l Ports

There are a lot of societal alarms still to be rung-not to mention Yorkshire mist to be cleared-in Stephen Daldry’s production of the J.B. Priestley thriller “An Inspector Calls,” which is poised on both sides of the Atlantic for an international onward march the likes of which are usually reserved for musicals like “Cats.”

On Broadway, the Tony-winning revival has been virtually the only straight play in town for months, and regularly outgrossed through the fall its principal competition, “Angels in America.” The West End run shutters at the Aldwych Jan. 21 to make way for Tom Stoppard’s new play, “Indian Ink,” but it may come back to London next fall following a three-and-a-half month tour to Australia and then to Vienna.

Says London producer Peter Wilson: “There seems to be plenty of life left in it yet.”

Tokyo got into the act in November with an all-Japanese production, overseen by Daldry with West End assistant Chris Barton, at the new 800-seat Art Sphere venue.

“It certainly hasn’t been what we were expecting,” Daldry says of the trajectory of the production, which was first mounted at the Royal National Theater’s Lyttelton auditorium in September 1992 “for 30 performances as essentially a touring show to go around England.” (Daldry had tested his expressionist concept in an earlier production at the Theater Royal in York.) After a famously awful first preview at the National, the rest, as they say, is history-or, at least, lots of smashed crockery, given the nightly forward tumble of the Birling house as its contents spill onto the stage.

The play-a post-WWII English warhorse as familiar to U.K. viewers as, say, “Our Town” would be to American ones-was jolted out of its genteel drawing-room confines into a bleak and blasted wasteland; the result was a highly politicized and angry reading that existed alongside a dazzling design (sets by Ian MacNeil, lighting by Rick Fisher) to turn a potentially unexceptional retread into a genuine event. The show transferred first to the National’s larger Olivier auditorium and then, in August 1993, to the West End, where it recouped its £ 300,000 ($475,000) cost in 13 weeks, according to Wilson.

Its Broadway stamina is even more remarkable, given the often cruel vagaries of the Street. “Everybody said, ‘It’s too expensive to do in New York,’ and You’re crazy, ‘ which is the best thing anyone can say to me,” recalls its New York producer, Noel Pearson, who saw the production at the National and decided to chance a Broadway run.

Some $1.85 million later (about $400,000 above the original $1.45 million capitalization), the revival opened at the Royale to rave reviews, copped four of the five Tony Awards for which it was nominated (losing, ironically, in the set category to Bob Crowley’s “Carousel” design), and has done better and better as its run has continued. After a decent but not spectacular summer, attendance and grosses built throughout the fall.

Friendly fall

“After Labor Day, the advance went over $1 million for the first time ever, and has remained constant between $900,000 and $1 million,” says Pearson. The weekly break-even is about $200,000. Having recouped 70% of its original cost as well as the entire overcall, “Inspector” should be in the black by March, the producer says.

What’s next? First, a New York recasting that has Sian Phillips and veteran British actor Nicholas Woodeson following Rosemary Harris and Kenneth Cranham: The new cast is being phased in over two weeks and should all be in place by Jan. 16. Expecting the Broadway run at least “to get through next summer,” Pearson is beginning to map out a 14-month North American tour co-produced with Pace Theatricals and Columbia Artists, which may again star Cranham, who originated the title role in this revival at the National before taking it to New York: “Ken has been amazing, but he needs a break,” Pearson says. “He’s done nearly 700 performances now.”

The tour would start next fall and play two to three weeks per site, with a nine-week stint in Canada. As for that set, “It will be the same, but designed to fold up,” says Pearson. “We will have a rain effect, but not a rainstorm.”

As for the effect of its success, virtually everyone has gained, starting with the National, which has made over $300,000 from its global march so far.

“It’s done a huge amount for us,” says Peter Wilson, whose PW Prods, next brings to the West End the National staging of Arthur Miller’s “Broken Glass.” “It’s become rather a famous production.”

But the biggest beneficiary, and not just financially, is likely to be 33-year-old Daldry. The director not only won an Olivier and a Tony for staging the play but keeps fax machines humming at his London base-the Royal Court Theater, where he is artistic director-with offers from Hollywood and Broadway. The latter includes at least two much-discussed major musicals. This “Inspector” may indeed be filmed, but that would be some way off, since-among other reasons-a 1954 film of the play, with Alastair Sim, already exists.

Resisting temptation

“The danger is getting seduced rather than pursuing what is absolutely quintessential to your work,” says Daldry, who is committed to the Court at least until October, when his contract expires. “I’ve made quite a conscious decision not to yield to the pull from America.”

And anyway, as he points out, he has never made a film. With movies, he laughs, “the fact is I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

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