Producers look to the road for gold

CHICAGO – A streamlined “Titanic” is definite, a no-frills “Capeman” is possible and the fleeting “Triumph of Love” waits in the wings as Broadway producers look to the road for gold. Even those tenacious Siamese Twins from “Side Show” eventually could tour — assuming they ever give up on Broadway.

Producers of recent Broadway shows both popular (“Titanic”) and not-so-popular (take your pick) are busily plotting their touring options. Some of the possibilities are surprising.

Even in the midst of a fight for life on Broadway, the producers of Paul Simon’s “The Capeman” are considering ditching the physical production for the road and sending out a concert-style presentation of the much maligned musical “with or without” Paul Simon. (The most surprising element of that notion is the “with” part: Simon recently has gone on the record more than once in his disdain for performing).

“There’s been a lot of demand from the road for the songs of ‘Capeman,’ ” producer Dan Klores says. “We’d use singers and a band, with or without Paul.” Klores emphasizes that a concert tour is merely an option for now, and that producers currently are too preoccupied with Broadway to decide on “Capeman’s” road possibilities.

Still, the concert option demonstrates the variety of touring possibilities facing producers of the current crop of Broadway productions looking for recoupment. The strongest immediate prospect for the road is “Titanic,” with producers expected to announce this week a tour starting in December. “Titanic” producer Michael David says that the musical liner will hit only “four or five cities” in its first year (Los Angeles and Chicago are on the list; dates not yet fixed), before eventually moving down to single-week markets.

The need for mobility will necessitate drastic design changes for the cumbersome, hydraulic-powered “Titanic.” “We’re not interested in taking 10-14 days to get from one city to the next,” says David, “nor can we spend four months excavating the basement of every theater.”

Other musicals have their own icebergs. Sets from Broadway’s short-lived “Triumph of Love” have been saved, but there’s no firm word yet on touring plans. “Everyone associated with the show knows it would take a special kind of road season,” says producer David, likening a “Triumph” tour to the road demands posed by “Angels in America” — a tour that played limited markets but eventually helped Broadway investors recoup their money. Another option for “Triumph” is extensive licensing rather than an official tour.

The situation with “Side Show” is especially complex because producer Emanuel Azenberg was expected to announce last week his unusual plan to reopen on Broadway following the $7 million musical’s recent flop. “Once you start using the road to pay off Broadway, you’re taking poison gas,” Azenberg says. Even though Azenberg says there is already strong interest in the show from the Kennedy Center and the Nederlander Organization in San Francisco, the producer apparently prefers rolling the dice on another Gotham run.

“Conventional wisdom says it’s a bad idea,” he says, “but conventional wisdom would not have done this show in the first place.”

More than one Broadway skeptic was wondering where exactly wisdom, conventional or otherwise, fits into the “Side Show” plans. The show closed Jan. 3 after only 91 performances and 31 previews, losing its $7 million investment. The show’s creative team, led by director/choreographer Robert Longbottom, wanted to re-open the show in the spring in the hopes of garnering Tony Award nominations and refocusing marketing strategies. On Jan. 23, Azenberg and several other producers nixed the plan, only to reconsider later.

Touring prospects for “Side Show” will, naturally, be determined by the fate of the musical’s possible Broadway reopening.

Another recent Azenberg project, Neil Simon’s “Proposals,” is likely to eschew a long road sojourn in favor of reaping the stock, amateur and foreign royalties that this author’s projects invariably attract. There will be a short Canadian to Winnipeg and Toronto, which could pick up three of four months of Stateside road dates later this year. Azenberg estimates that the limited tour could help investors recoup between 40% and 50% of the Broadway production’s $1.6 million investment.

With stronger critical notices from London than New York, “Proposals” also looks like a good bet for the West End.

“Street Corner Symphony” producer Bryan Bantry says there’s international interest in his rock ‘n’ roll oldies tuner, a critically dismissed Broadway show that shuttered Feb. 1. An Australian tour hits the road in October, a London and U.S. tour are possible, and a sit-down production is in development for a Las Vegas casino hotel. “We were breaking even with 40% of capacity in New York,” Bantry says. “This is a very lean and inexpensive show to mount.”

Not lean enough to turn a profit on Broadway, however. Bantry says audiences that did see the show responded positively, but business wasn’t strong enough to stay open. “If we had wanted to waste another $3 million, we could have made it through January and February,” Bantry says. “But why throw good money after bad?”

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