A ‘Fool’ for B’way

New SFS sets comedy with thesp Bates, helmer Penn

The new producing entity SFS will bring Alan Bates and Arthur Penn back to Broadway in the spring for a rare staging of the Turgenev comedy “Fortune’s Fool,” adapted by Michael Poulton.

Rehearsals will begin in January, with a 13-performance tryout at Connecticut’s Stamford Center for the Performing Arts prior to Gotham.

The producing team of Julian Schlossberg, Roy L. Furman and Ben Sprecher announced the creation of SFS (not to be confused with SFX, Clear Channel’s old moniker) as well as a slate of future legit projects, including the Bates starrer with Penn attached as director.

Legit veterans

Bates last appeared on Broadway in the 1972 production of “Butley.” Penn helmed several Broadway offerings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including “Two for the Seesaw,” “Toys in the Attic” and “The Miracle Worker,” which he brought to the screen.

Schlossberg said Penn also would direct the film version of “Fortune’s Fool,” with Bates again starring, this time as an old man who has lost his estate and fears for his future livelihood.

In addition to producing the Turgenev adaptation, SFS has secured the rights and/or commissioned new plays from A.R. Gurney, Kenneth Lonergan, Elaine May and Edna O’Brien. The producers said these four works, as yet untitled, would be produced either on Broadway or Off Broadway.

“We have a multimillion-dollar fund to produce new work,” explained Furman, who is vice chairman of Jefferies & Co., a Wall Street investment firm. Furman was most recently involved in legit when he became CEO of Garth Drabinsky’s ailing Livent in 1998. He left in 1999, and the company later was dissolved.

Financial flexibility

“It’s a capital structure that gives us the opportunity to produce the plays we are discussing as well as the ability to move quickly to take advantage of other situations that might arise where we are not the (lead) producers,” Furman said.

“It’s a nice construct now that things are getting a little tighter,” added Furman, who stressed that SFS had been in the works several months prior to Sept. 11.

The three producers would not comment on the size of the fund but said it was many millions.

As for the SFS investors, Sprecher said, “They are people who have worked with us in the past and have faith in what we do.”

Schlossberg called SFS the ideal team. “I have ties to the artistic community,” said Schlossberg, who also has produced feature films (“Widow’s Peak”) and cable docus. “Ben has ties to various theaters and venues. And Roy has ties to the financial community.”

At present, Sprecher is a producer on Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things” at the Promenade Theater, which the producer owns and manages, as he does the Variety Arts. Last season, he and Schlossberg produced “Madame Melville” and “The Unexpected Man,” which marked Bates’ Off Broadway debut.

Furman has invested in several Schlossberg-Sprecher productions and is a producer on the new Broadway-bound musical “Sweet Smell of Success.”

Sprecher said the three SFS producers share a common legit philosophy. “We’re interested in producing theater that is artistically interesting as well as potentially profitable. It’s not about making money back. It’s about making a profit.”

Meeting standards

The three producers would not discuss future budgets but said theirs would be comparable to current Broadway and Off Broadway standards for a play. Sprecher put those figures at between $600,000 and $800,000 for an Off Broadway production, with the Broadway range at $1.5 million-$2 million.

Schlossberg and Sprecher are well known for bringing major-name talent such as Bates and Vanessa Redgrave (“Vita and Virginia”) to Off Broadway.

“We’re very much committed to stars. You need stars to sell tickets,” Sprecher said, adding that SFS was in negotiations to round out the “Fortune’s Fool” cast with two other high-profile thesps, to be announced shortly.

While the producers have plans for the Turgenev adaptation to go the stage-to-film route, Schlossberg commented: “It’s not a mandate. It would depend on the project. There may be more to a property than just theater. We’re open to the prospect of film, TV and cable.”

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