Solo shows bring producers, affordable laughs

Comedian Lundholm: 'I want to be on Broadway in 2004'

NEW YORK — Will Mark Lundholm be the next Rob Becker, Jackie Mason, John Leguizamo or, just possibly, Dame Edna?

William Morris and Denver Center Attractions are not only betting on the former standup comic’s first solo show, “Addicted: A Comedy of Substance,” they are producing it. Lundholm opened in August at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and will move in November to Miami’s Coconut Grove Theater, with a quick stopover in Nashville.

Why “former” standup?

“I want to be on Broadway in 2004,” says Lundholm, whose show runs the craver gamut from sex and drugs to food and TV. “I’ve been doing clubs from 1992, prisons since 1988.” Of the transition to theaters, he adds, “If these guys couldn’t do that for me, I wasn’t interested.”

“These guys” are DCA’s Randy Weeks and WMA’s Clint Mitchell, who also represents Becker and his “Defending the Caveman.” (The long-touring Broadway show goes the non-Equity route next year as comics yet to be determined will, for the first time, replace Becker in split-week engagements around the country.)

Meeting of minds

Lundholm met Becker two years ago in Salt Lake City when a local radio station double-booked an interview slot. Instead of 86-ing the unknown for the star, Becker insisted that he and Lundholm perform together. Later that week, they took in each other’s shows.

“Mark had gone as far as he could telling jokes,” recalls Todd Grove, Becker’s manager on “Caveman.” “We could tell he wanted to write some longer pieces that had some personal history and a larger theme.”

As with Tomlin and Leguizamo before him, Lundholm wanted to do more than just tell jokes. “The clubs want a laugh every six seconds,” says Grove. “They don’t want to deal with a guy who is up there for 90 minutes on the same topic.”

Theaters, however, often do.

In his 45-minute set, Lundholm could be found doing 10-minute set pieces strung together with jokes. The transition was natural, but not all together easy.

“There is a book, a script, with successful one-person shows,” says Weeks. As a standup, Lundholm was used to interacting with the audience. His new producer gave him some new advice: “You need to be in control of the fourth wall. Let them in when you want, but they can’t come in when they want.”

In the transition from clubs to theaters, Lundholm has struggled with, of all things, curtain calls. “You don’t go into the lobby and shake everybody’s hand afterwards,” Weeks cautioned.

One actor, one paycheck

The current plethora of one-person shows comes down to one thing: money. “That’s part of the whole equation,” says Weeks. “In the general scheme of things, it is relatively inexpensive.” Even on Broadway, Mason clocks in at under $100,000 a week. On the road, Lundholm is far less.

“We’ve got $19 invested in the set,” says Weeks, a master of understatement. “The theaters are fully equipped, so we send him out with a lighting package and you make a show.”

“Say Goodnight Gracie,” starring Frank Gorshin as George Burns, must be the high end of the one-person show. Producer William Franzblau puts the capitalization at $2 million for the Broadway stint, opening in October.

That number is a little eye-popping even for a three- or four-character play, and easily tops the $1.25 million spent to bring in “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” which employed a small band.

Just as John Lahr wrote “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” Rupert Holmes scripted the Burns evening. Franzblau had an unusual concept for his show.

“Gracie Allen actually had a more interesting life than George Burns,” says the producer. “So we were looking for someone who could write a one-man show about a woman for Gorshin.”

Adding to the cost are various multimedia, including rare archival footage courtesy of the Burns estate.

“It has to be theatrical but not so theatrical you’ll never get out financially,” says Franzblau. “On the other hand, it can’t be a monologue, which is the kiss of death in the theater.”

John Tillinger directs “Say Goodnight Gracie.” His last Broadway venture was “Judgment at Nuremberg,” which clocked in with a cast of 23 two seasons ago.

The DIY mentality

Unlike the many talents behind “Gracie,” some one-person shows are literally that. Lundholm, who writes his own material, is directing himself but may bring in a helmer. There are precedents: “Prune Danish,” due on Broadway in October, is written and directed by Mason.

And after his successful “Dame Edna: The Royal Tour,” Barry Humphries saw fit to leave his director, producers and booker behind to go it alone with his next one, “A Night With Dame Edna: The Family Tour.” The show will kick off Sept. 10 at Miami’s Jackie Gleason Theater, but as one no-longer-close associate remarks, “He has put himself in the 3,500-seat Tampa Performing Arts Center on Sept. 17. Rosh Hashana in Florida? Good luck, Barry!”

When you go it alone, these things can happen.

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