‘Family’ center stage

Toon finds new life in the theater

“Family Guy” is going legit.

In a first of its kind for a primetime skein, 20th Century Fox Television is partnering with Montreal Comedy Festival producer Just for Laughs to mount a two-hour stage extravaganza — dubbed “Family Guy Live!” — featuring in-character comedy and musical performances from the cast of creator Seth MacFarlane’s back-from-the-dead animated laffer.

Event is already booked for two perfs April 15 at L.A.’s Wiltern LG and four at Gotham’s Town Hall on April 29 and 30.

Nothing’s official yet, but if the live show’s successful, studio and promoter anticipate the possibility of a small national tour of the production, perhaps as early as this summer.

Ticket prices for the multimedia event will be on par with that for a smaller concert or play, topping out at $68.50 in L.A. and $65 in New York, not counting Ticketmaster service fees. Each two-hour show will feature cast readings from an episode of the show, a live performance from the upcoming “Family Guy Live in Vegas” comedy album and Q&A with the cast and writers of the show.

“Family Guy Live!” started as something of a lark last summer at the Montreal Comedy Festival, with Just For Laughs programming/touring manager Evi Regev dreaming up the concept as a way to add some spark to the 2004 fest.

“It went over much more successfully than anyone ever thought it would, which is sort of the story of this show in a way,” MacFarlane said. “It turned into much more than a reading (of scripts from the show).”

Favorable response got execs at 20th Century Fox TV’s marketing department thinking about a revival of the stage show to help promote the skein’s May 1 return with original episodes.

“We’re taking a really valuable franchise and bringing it to the two biggest markets in a way that’s organic to the strengths of the show,” said senior VP of marketing Steven Melnick. Skein is “one of those very rare properties that in its mix of music, comedy, animation and irreverence almost demands to be experienced in a live environment.”

First such prod’n

The cast of “The Simpsons” has assembled for public table reads a couple of times in its history, including appearances in the U.K. and the Aspen Comedy Festival, as well as the show’s 2000 Global Fanfest. But no skein has attempted the sort of bicoastal stage production “Family Guy” is planning.

Just for Laughs chief operating officer Bruce Hills said the live show fits well into the company’s international touring biz, particularly if it expands beyond the initial two-city tour.

“We don’t have any set plans yet, so right now we’re just evaluating where we could take it and when,” Hills said, adding that production values for “Family Guy Live!” will be “as elaborate as necessary.”

Hills also said he’s been impressed at 20th Century Fox TV’s focus on the project “from the time Evi called (VP of publicity) Chris Alexander to put this together.”

Expanding show’s aud

“This is a small part of the launch, but it’s a really unique component,” he said. Indeed, 20th Century Fox TV prexy Gary Newman said the main point of “Family Guy Live!” is “to expand interest in the show beyond its hardcore fans.”

As for expanding the tour to other cities, all parties involved caution that no decisions have been made. MacFarlane, for one, says the show’s heavy workload means such an event could take place only during a production hiatus over the summer.

According to Melnick, “For now, the focus is on generating as much heat as we can on the premiere of ‘Family Guy.’ “

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