Broadway not looking West for plays

With Hollywood providing fodder for more and more Broadway musicals, you’d think L.A. would have established itself at the natural tryout town of choice.

But in fact, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” last year’s stage adaptation of the 1967 Universal film musical, became the first Tony winner for best musical that had its premiere west of the Hudson River. It’s a sign that even when it comes to developing Hollywood properties for the stage, the road has avoided Southern California.

It took an army of New York producers — among them Whoopi Goldberg, the Nederlanders and two consortiums — to pony up $763,000 in enhancement money to develop “Millie” under Des McAnuff’s stewardship. In the show’s current Broadway run at the Marquis Theater, the La Jolla Playhouse takes only an “originally produced at” credit. “We’re not in the producing business,” a La Jolla spokesman says. At this time, La Jolla has no other movie properties on its docket.

“Hairspray,” the latest hot Broadway commodity with a film as its base, got its first run in Seattle. “You go into places where you can learn something outside the big cities,” notes Michael Lynne, co-chairman of New Line, which produced the film and is among the musical’s producers.

Another reason for avoiding L.A., says Martin Markinson, who runs the Wadsworth Theater in L.A. and the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway: “You don’t have the producing entities in L.A. It’s really not a nurturing place for theater and it’s unfortunate.”

L.A.’s premier theaters — Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson Theatre and Geffen Playhouse — have no designs on producing shows intended to move to other venues.

“We’re not a tryout house,” Geffen producing director Gil Cates says of his 499-seat theater. “If the purpose is accessibility for new audiences, then that’s terrific. If any play is revived or adapted from a movie, indicating a paucity of new plays, then that’s not healthy.”

Center Theater Group’s Gordon Davidson, who oversees productions at the Ahmanson and Taper, is in agreement with Markinson. “We’re happy to play the role of presenter — we’re not financing things here.”

The only theater that could accommodate long runs in L.A., the Shubert, has been shuttered, and plans to use the 3,000-seat Kodak Theater for longer runs — the first road company of “The Full Monty” was supposed to open there — have fallen to the side.

“The Kodak is a white elephant,” one New York producer says. “What producer would want to pay $400,000 to $500,000 a week to keep a show running in a theater that’s too big and has no hope of attracting audiences?”

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