Ilitch snares Young to develop commersh shows

DETROIT The Olympia Entertainment Group, part of a huge Motor City family empire that owns the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers sports teams as well as the Fox Theater, is taking a new interest in creating commercial product for the legit theater.

Greg Young, formerly an Indianapolis-based independent producer of road revivals, has been hired and moved to Detroit by Olympia president Atanis Ilitch, partly to develop new Broadway-style product with an eye toward the national marketplace.

Citing legal obligations and unsigned contracts, Young declined to be specific about what deals are in the works, but confirmed that he is developing arrangements with regional theaters that would allow Olympia to put cash into nonprofit projects in return for future commercial rights. He also said there are plans to acquire a library of scripts, work with writers and develop new shows in Detroit.

A co-producer of the Debbie Gibson vehicle “Funny Girl,” Young was burned financially last year when the tour tanked (there’s an ongoing lawsuit with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which canceled its booking). But the failure was an exception for Young, who has a solid track record of producing road revivals with B-list stars, many of which have done well in smaller markets.

Olympia has also dabbled in legit investments in recent years, often with Young. Along with Young and his father Robert, Olympia is involved in the upcoming Broadway attraction “Wait Until Dark,” starring Quentin Tarantino and Marisa Tomei.

Ilitch’s company also owns the Detroit outpost of improv troupe Second City and was the principal investor behind the Radio City Rockettes’ recent Christmas stand at the Fox Theater. The high-kicking show grossed more than $7 million in Detroit.

“We’re looking to do original productions on a national basis, with Greg heading up that area,” Ilitch says. “A lot of people have not heard of our company because we’re very selective about where we do business. But we’re looking to expand our involvement in the theater area.”

As a local presenter of Broadway fare, the Nederlander Organization has long enjoyed a lock on the Detroit market with exclusive legit contracts at all the major downtown venues — with the notable exception of the Fox.

Given that Young and Al Lichtenstein, who runs the Nederlander’s Detroit operations, are producing partners, it’s unlikely Olympia will compete with the Nederlanders to present traveling Broadway productions.

As is increasingly the case on the road, relationships here are more than a little complex. Working as his own production company, Lichtenstein is also an investor in the Youngs’ “Wait Until Dark.”

So is Pace Theatricals, which refused the chance to enter the rapidly growing Detroit market when the legit contract at the newly renovated Detroit Opera House became available.

The contract went to the Nederlanders, who are also investors in “Harmony,” the new Barry Manilow musical which Pace will produce this year on Broadway.

So while the legit competitors are loath to invade one another’s turf, Young has access to a big new bankroll.

His task now is to locate and develop the kind of high-profile product that will make Olympia an important player in Detroit and beyond.

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