Noises Off - Robert Hofler
NEW YORK — Almost a year to the date after his entry on the Broadway scene, Bob Boyett graduates to the daunting lead producer slot on what looks to be the most expensive musical of the new season, “Dance of the Vampires.”
The TV producer turned legit entrepreneur used the phrases “trial by fire” and “going to war” at last week’s open rehearsal for the Jim Steinman tuner.
But despite being a producer for just one season, he already has a lengthy list of legit credits.
“I’ve been preparing for this,” he said, referring to the six 2001-02 shows he helped bring to Broadway, beginning with “Hedda Gabler” last fall and crowned by the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Topdog/Underdog.”
While some novice producers just put up the money, get the credit and run, Boyett says he took the process very seriously: “I went to all the meetings and learned, like it was grad school.”
Although his opinion could change before “Vampires” opens on Broadway this November, Boyett thinks Broadway isn’t all that different from Hollywood, where he produced the movie version of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and nearly a dozen TV series, including “Laverne & Shirley” and “Step by Step.”
“I’d say it’s only 20% different from the kind of producing I’ve done all my life,” he says.
B’way gets restrictive!
While some Hollywood types find Broadway “less cutthroat,” Boyett finds it “more restrictive.” He mentions the sheer physical space of the theaters but also all the rules and regulations: “I’ve dealt with unions all my life, but I do find Actors’ Equity is very restrictive to the creative process.”
He is certainly employing a lot of the union’s members: 36 to be exact. They will contribute mightily to the show’s weekly running nut, which should be in the neighborhood of $550,000, which is about $100,000 higher than either “Thoroughly Modern Millie” or “Hairspray.”
That includes the reported $30,000 a week salary for its star, Michael Crawford.
Not one penny more!
But Boyett refutes the story that “Vampires” will ultimately come in at $15 million.
“Twelve million,” he corrects. “It might have been $10.5 million,” he says, giving a number that just happens to be the reported capitalization for “Millie” and “Hairspray”, “but this show had a legacy.”
Once upon a time, it seems, there were other producers leading the way on “Vampires” and some of those early readings and workshops did not come cheaply.
Boyett regrets that “Vampires” will not have an out-of-town tryout.
“I love the experience of taking ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ to Chicago,” he says with real enthusiasm, as if the project ended happily. “It was helpful to have the critics say what they did.” Not that Boyett thinks the right message from the critics got to the creative team.
On the money-saving upside for staying put in Gotham with “Vampires,” Boyett has Crawford here for a full year followed by six months in London and a possible stint in California.
Bill Haber speaks!
Boyett isn’t exactly going it alone on “Vampires. In addition to six other producers, there is Bill Haber, whose USA Ostar Theatricals shares top-line credit alongside Boyett.
Although Haber won’t give a formal interview, he can’t resist answering one question — and it has nothing to do with “Dance of the Vampires.”
Why is Haber’s other fall production, “Imaginary Friends” by Nora Ephron, being called a play if it has six songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia?
“It has nothing to do with how many songs there are,” he shoots back. “It has to do with the fact that if you took all the songs out, it still works and you still have a play.”
Dance, you blood-sucker!
At the “Vampires” rehearsal, Crawford revealed a crooning tenor that remains undiminished 14 years after “The Phantom of the Opera.” (Perhaps no singer has used this much portamento so expertly since Leontyne Price retired from the Met.)
When he isn’t singing, Crawford sounds like Bela Lugosi on helium. It is a comedy, after all.
Director John Rando introduced the show’s opening ballet, called “God Has Left the Building.” Or, as he described it, “These girls encounter a number of vampires who really love rock ‘n’ roll and dance really well, too.”
John Carrafa’s blood-letting, bone-crunching choreography will, no doubt, keep all the swings gainfully active throughout the show’s run.
“Right at the beginning, you need the big horror scene, like when the shark attacks the girl in ‘Jaws,’ ” Carrafa explains, “and then in the next scene everything is fine and you go on to tell the story.”
Rando worries about getting the right balance between horror and comedy in that early scene. He rolls his eyes at a reference to the “Carrie” disaster and mentions “Rocky Horror Show” instead.
“Jim Steinman wrote lyrics for the opening number, but John and I thought, No, just dance. Jim was thrilled, I think.”
Rando, too, is thrilled to learn that Jerome Robbins did precisely the same thing with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics for the ballet prologue in “West Side Story.”
As precedents go, he couldn’t do any better.
Postscript: Whoever said you learn nothing from press kits? In the bio of book writer David Ives, it is revealed the Disney musical version of “The Little Mermaid” is slated for 2004 and Warners’ “Batman: the Musical” for 2005. Ives is doing book-duty for both shows.