Off B’way battles back

Noises Off

NEW YORK — James Nederlander Jr. calls it “swimming against a tidal wave” after the events of Sept. 11.

While such Off Broadway shows as “Bat Boy” and “The Syringa Tree” took a hiatus to wait out the storm, a few producers have gone ahead with plans to open shows this week.

Nederlander’s production of “Reefer Madness” opened Oct. 7 at the Variety Arts. “It’s my first Off Broadway experience. Boy!” the producer says with due irony.

Since beginning previews two weeks ago, its wraps have decreased slightly but business has more than doubled per show, Nederlander says.

According to other producers and general managers, several long-running Off Broadway productions have seen their advances decline while walk-up biz has soared, thanks in part to aggressive use of street fliers.

“Reefer Madness” offered a $10 student rush for its first two weeks.

“Even at that price, we weren’t getting many people at all,” Nederlander admits. “The most tickets we sold are at $60. I don’t know what that’s about. I understand from Off Broadway people that it takes 10 to 12 weeks for a show to percolate. They might be right.”

After Sept. 11, the Off Broadway League instituted a 50% ticket reduction for those theatergoers showing a ticket stub from another Off Broadway show.

Opening Oct. 15 at Century Center, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” partakes of that program as well as a novel movie tie-in: Each ticket buyer gets a free pass to one of Gotham’s many City Cinemas.

“We were considering the program before Sept. 11,” says “Shakespeare” producer Jeffrey Richards, “but it became a definite after those events. We’re seeking out a young audience and they go to film.”

The producer says there were soldout shows over the weekend of Sept. 29-30, and Century Center puts the advance for “Shakespeare” as the theater’s third highest, after “How I Learned to Drive” and “The Play About the Baby.”

Susan Quint Gallin saw the daily wrap on her production of “The Shape of Things” go from $55,000 on Sept. 10 to $2,000 the following day. “Then we went back to the high teens and stayed there,” Gallin says of the Neil LaBute play, which opens Oct. 9 at the Promenade Theater.

Those first couple of days of wraps were so spectacular that Gallin and her producing team expected “Shape” to sell out in previews. “Instead, we’re doing about 70% capacity,” says the producer. “We’re happy.”

Getting in ‘Shape’

Joining Gallin on “The Shape of Things” are such veteran producers as Stuart Thompson, Ben Sprecher and Bill Haber via his Ostar Theatricals. New to the game is Gallin’s ex-brother-in-law, Sandy Gallin, the former manager who put such clients as Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Mac Davis and Patti LaBelle into Broadway shows and concerts. Although he’s never produced in Gotham, Gallin does recall working on Anthony Newley’s “Chaplin” in the early 1980s, a production that got no closer to Shubert Alley than the Mark Taper Forum.

The two Gallins also are part of the producing team for “Hedda Gabler.” As for his new career, Sandy Gallin says he finds it “less cutthroat” than Hollywood. “Maybe the stakes are not as high, because the budgets are not as high,” he opines. “I can’t make that assessment yet.”

After back-to-back openings this October, the Gallins look forward to bringing “Return to Moscow,” by William Nicholson (“Shadowlands”), to Gotham in spring 2002.

Susan Gallin says it’s “probable” that producers Barry Diller and Haber will join them on the “Moscow” project. “We have a nice relationship with them,” says Gallin.

Diller’s USA Network owns Trio, where Haber is president-CEO. Their newly joined USA/Ostar Theatricals is on the producing teams for “The Shape of Things,” “Hedda Gabler,” “Noises Off” and “Dance of Death.” Through a rep, Haber said Trio had no announcements to make regarding those four shows’ possible appearance on his cable network.

Trio recently taped Matthew Bourne’s “Car Man” for airing in 2002, and on Oct. 28 the network runs the 1966 “Death of a Salesman” starring Lee J. Cobb.

‘Mamma’ adds to WTC fund

In the wake of so much Broadway Sturm und Drang, Judy Craymer has kept an extremely low profile for someone producing a musical that boasts a $25 million-plus advance, second only to “Miss Saigon” back in 1991 (see chart).

On Oct. 5, her five companies of “Mamma Mia!” donated all receipts for the day (estimated at $300,000) to the Twin Towers Fund and the Red Cross.

Upcoming is a big opening-night blowout on Oct. 18: Broadway could use it.

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