Despite setbacks in Asia, prolific Australian producer John Frost is spreading his musical wings for his forthcoming Broadway and West End debuts, with productions of “The King and I” and “The Secret Garden,” respectively.
Fresh from a successful Australian run, “The Secret Garden” – a Frost co-production with the Lyric Opera of Queensland and the Queensland Performing Arts Trust – is slated for the West End in the first quarter of 1997, in an A$4 million ($3.1 million) production.
“It will be a carbon copy of the New York and Australian productions with a fair enough figure that is easy enough to recoup,” Frost says. He plans a limited regional tryout before the West End bow, which, if successful, will be followed by a more extensive regional tour.
“We have never taken anything to the U.K. before,” noted Queensland Performing Arts Trust director Tony Gould, whose association with Frost dates back to the 1989 production of “Big River.”
Early next year, Frost plans to link up with a U.K. partner for “Garden.” While a three-way split would be ideal, Gould added, a local presence is the real objective: “We feel we will have no problem raising the money here in Australia; money is not the main object.”
“‘ Secret Garden’ going to London will be an international showcase, and if successful, a lot will come of it,” Frost adds. “It is all very well to tour successfully in Australia, but the wonderful thing about America and London is they are showcases.” He cites David Atkins’ “Hot Shoe Shuffle” as one example of a production that received offers for stints in Japan, Asia and the U.S. from its Broadway foray. The Sydney Theater Company’s innovative male dance act “Tap Dogs” is following a similar route, he said.
In its first five weeks in Sydney, Frost’s “Garden” grossed $3.4 million and seems well on its way to recouping costs of $4.3 million with projected takings of $6.9 million before moving to Melbourne’s Victorian Arts Center, where the break-even will be $2.8 million.
In its five-week Oz premiere season in Brisbane, the tuner took $2.4 million and recouped costs.
“We felt it (Brisbane) was safe ground to start in; Sydney is a very finicky, fickle market,” Frost said. “We had the premiere in Brisbane to iron out any bumps, because there was less critical scrutiny; you get a second shot when you come to Sydney.”
The Oz production was directed by original Broadway team of director Susan H. Schulman, choreographer Michael Lichtefeld and associate producer Betsy Friday, plus a cast of Oz stars: Anthony Warlow (ex- Australian Opera, “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera”), Marina Prior (“Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “West Side Story”) and Philip Quast (an Australian who starred in the London production of “Les Miserables” and completed a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company).
Frost is negotiating to take the show to Adelaide and Perth and then to Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Korea. But his last foray into Asia, with Thai productions of “Grease” and “South Pacific” (after successful Oz runs), was disappointing, he admits, causing the cancellation of Frost productions of “Hello, Dolly!” and “Elvis: The Musical” by the Kad Performing Arts Center at Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second-largest city.
“Financially it wasn’t very rewarding because the presenter didn’t market it properly and put too high prices on tickets,” he claims. “Everyone’s going to Asia and that’s fantastic. But my core business is here – (and) I would like to expand to the U.K. and America.
“Asia has a good track record for ‘Cats’ and ‘Phantom’ but not so good for less well-known productions. I am in the business because I love it and need to make a living out of it, but I don’t want to be a pioneer; I don’t want to put everything on the line.”
Frost is also taking the Frost-Adelaide Festival Center production of “The King and I” to Broadway’s Neil Simon Theater for Dodger Prods, and Washington’s Kennedy Center; the recast show will star Lou Diamond Phillips and Donna Murphy. Negotiations for the $3.8 million production began in late 1991, after Mary Rodgers (daughter of the tuner’s composer Richard Rodgers) and Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization president Theodore Chapin came Down Under to see Frost’s production.
Coming from Broadway to Australia in Frost’s busy slate, meanwhile, is a production of the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller rock revue, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” with the Queensland Performing Arts Trust, which opens for a five-week season in Brisbane next July, before moving to Sydney, Melbourne and perhaps Adelaide.
“We think ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ will be a knockout; it is doing terrific business in New York and it really blew us away. It is relatively easy to re-mount and it has all the best elements of ‘Buddy” and is a bit more refined in style,” says Gould.
And a Frost version of “Cabaret” will hit the boards mid-tolate next year. Budgeted at under A$l million ($761,800), it will open in Sydney’s Footbridge Theater. If successful he plans a tour that would include Melbourne, Perth, Newcastle and Canberra.
Frost also plans a $3 million production of “Crazy for You” in conjunction with the Adelaide Festival Center, opening late May in Melbourne for a 12-to-18-month run. Frost hopes to take the show to Sydney, but is pessimistic that an appropriate venue will be available (“Miss Saigon” has the Capitol Theater for two years, while the State Theater has inadequate staging).
“We desperately need another 2,000-seat theater – especially in the lead-up to the Olympics (in the year 2000) ” he opines.
This year, Frost also produced “Tropical Nights” for Queensland’s Jupiter’s Casino Complex, prompting discussions about taking his productions of “South Pacific” and “Jerry’s Girls” there.
Frost says he’s also ready to begin originating shows.
“I am very keen to create a new musical in Australia with an international flavor with an American creative team; I would like to create it here and take it back to America,” he says. “I am in discussion with Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman, writers of ‘The Secret Garden,’ to write something and start it here and take it over there, if successful, because it is cheaper to produce here.
“That is my next big step – to create musicals, not just produce carbon copies. I’m ready for an original idea and international creative production team.”