‘Love’ team tunes up

Pawk, Tony-nommed Kudisch to star in musical

The team behind the longest-running Off Broadway musical is ready to defy the odds. Again.

The producers of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” have set a backer’s audition on Dec. 16 for “The Thing About Men…,” a new tuner by “I Love You…” creatives Joe Di Pietro and Jimmy Roberts.

In its seventh year, “I Love You…” is the only book tuner up and running Off Broadway to make a profit the size of such special-event fare as “Stomp” and “Blue Man Group.” As a matter of fact, it’s a huge profit, “I Love You…” having returned more than 600% on its original capitalization of $425,000. Worldwide gross so far comes to more than $60 million.

Jonathan Pollard, lead producer on “I Love You…” as well as “Men,” is looking to raise $1.3 million to stage the latter musical Off Broadway in summer or fall 2003. His cast for the Dec. 16 reading includes Marc Kudisch, Tony-nommed for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and Michele Pawk, arguably the best-reviewed actress on Broadway this season for her alcoholic-mom turn in “Hollywood Arms.” Mark Clements of the U.K.’s Derby Playhouse will direct.

‘In franchise business’

“Most Off Broadway musicals fail because they are overproduced and undercapitalized,” Pollard said. “Men” could be brought in for slightly under $1 million, he estimated. “But you have to keep the show open long enough to find your audience. We are in the franchise business. We know our audience.”

They could be the same theatergoers who turned “I Love You…” into a hit. With “The Thing About Men…,” Di Pietro and Roberts have again written a farce about romantic relationships, in this case, one that focuses on a love triangle. The show is based on Doris Dorrie’s 1985 German film “Men,” about a man who becomes the roommate of his wife’s lover.

No bonanza Off B’way

While Off Broadway has been the home of such hit tuners as “The Fantasticks” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” the past few seasons have been short on B.O. winners. This dearth has coincided with at least half a dozen recent musical successes on Broadway, from “The Producers” to “Movin’ Out.”

Off Broadway, the current “Love, Janis” and “Little Ham” will close in the coming weeks, joining such other recent B.O. casualties as “Bat Boy,” “Tick, Tick … Boom,” “Summer of ’42,” “Reefer Madness” and “The Last 5 Years.”

$10,000 a week short

Eric Krebs, lead producer of “Little Ham,” said that show needed to do $60,000 a week and was falling short of that figure by about $10,000. Eric Nederlander, lead producer of “Love, Janis,” confirmed the biotuner based on the life of Janis Joplin would not return its original investment despite a run of nearly two years.

Also, George C. Wolfe’s “Harlem Song” recently required a $300,000 cash infusion from various foundations and donors to complete its scheduled run through December at the Apollo Theater.

Two other tuners, “Menopause the Musical” and “Jolson & Company,” opened earlier this year and continue in their runs Off Broadway. The long-running revue “Forbidden Broadway” will be joined by “Tommy Tune: White Tie and Tails,” which inaugurates the Little Shubert Theater Dec. 18.

Otherwise, the small book musical is now the province of the subsidized nonprofit theater, where there are several book tuners skedded to open over the next few months. They include “My Life With Albertine” (Playwrights Horizons), “Crowns” and “Little Fish” (Second Stage), “Radiant Baby” (Public Theater), “Avenue Q” (Vineyard) and “A Man of No Importance,” which closes Dec. 29 at Lincoln Center Theater. “Avenue Q” has been optioned for a commercial production by producers Robyn Goodman (“Metamorphoses”) and Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller (“Rent”).

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