Legit expands into pix, TV and DVD

In theater, you have to be there, and you can’t take it with you.

But now legit events are expanding into other media — meaning that sometimes you can take it with you.

The recent announcement of an “American Idol”-style TV competish to cast an upcoming Broadway revival of “Grease” is just the latest addition to a growing list of theater-themed projects for the big and small screens.

That list also includes a DVD tied to the Broadway production of “Chicago,” a semi-improv look at Al Pacino in Oscar Wilde’s “Salome,” and a Sam Mendes-directed docu on singer Rufus Wainwright.

The trend suggests a surge of interest in legit-related film, TV and DVDs — or at least a recognition of theater aficionados as a niche market.

The trick is not to cannibalize the audience for the production itself by simply filming the show, but instead to present a look at a stage production from another angle — often a backstage one. Such behind-the-scenes glimpses can function, in effect, as the commentary tracks and making-of featurettes common to DVD releases of theatrical films.

“I think there’s a great future for the genre,” says independent movie producer Rick McKay. “Theater lovers are a much bigger niche audience than people realize.”

He should know. His 2003 documentary, “Broadway: The Golden Age,” surprised even him with its success on the bigscreen, then on TV and DVD.

The DVD sold more than 25,000 copies in its first three weeks. “That’s unheard of for a little indie film,” he says.

“Golden Age” was popular enough to prompt two companion pieces, “Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age,” aiming for a mid-to-late 2007 release, and “Broadway: The Next Generation,” coming in 2008.

Those offerings aren’t the only theater-geek bait ahead. Confirmed projects include the Wainwright doc helmed by Mendes, which will include a backstage look at the preparation for Wainwright’s Carnegie Hall performances of Judy Garland’s famous set at that same venue. There’s also the upcoming feature that follows Pacino and the cast that performed in a Los Angeles production of “Salome.”

Called “Salomaybe?,” the pic has a twist in that it’s a fictionalized, semi-improvised version of the events around this spring’s run of “Salome” at the Wadsworth Theater. But producer Barry Navidi, who hopes to have the movie ready by next fall, says it will offer a tantalizing look at real backstage antics.

“It’s all about the process,” Navidi says. “It’s going to be quite educational.”

Meanwhile, the Broadway revival of “Chicago” will release a CD-DVD boxed set in honor of the production’s 10th anniversary.

The DVD will include interviews with original stars and members of the creative and producing team, footage from various international incarnations and the behind-the-scenes story of “Ten Percent,” a song that was cut as the original 1975 production was being crafted.

Such informational nuggets are magnets for fans hungry for souvenirs and collectors’ items.

“There are a lot of collectors and aficionados out there who will want something unique,” says “Chicago” producer Barry Weissler. He’s so confident of the boxed set’s appeal that it’s not just being released in specialty boutiques; it hits stores nationwide in October.

On the other hand, producers of the “Grease” TV skein, “You’re the One That We Want,” are clearly hoping to draw in more than just pre-existing legit devotees. The TV show, airing midseason on NBC, will act as a national advertisement for the stage production, set to open in June — an unprecedented marketing boost for Rialto offerings.

“Everyone will be watching to see if it’s a viable tool for the right show at the right time,” says Nick Scandalios, exec VP of the Nederlander Org, one of the producers of “Grease.”

The West End already has given reality TV a try, with the BBC show “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” currently tracking the search to cast the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s upcoming revival of “The Sound of Music.” David Ian, one of the producers of “Maria,” also is producing “You’re the One That We Want.”

But whether all the publicity will pump up legit sales remains to be seen.

Earlier this year, the four-episode BBC series “The Play’s the Thing” ended in the selection of the script “On the Third Day” for a full West End production. That show wasn’t much helped by the reality-TV connection: “Third Day” played to 51% capacity over a run of seven weeks, and closed a month early July 29.

McKay believes that part of the appeal of theater-related offerings in other media lies in the fact that legit ticket prices have skyrocketed, closing off access to those who can’t afford a $110 top ticket.

“There is this whole young audience interested in film, TV and DVDs about theater, because they’re no longer welcome at the theater, which is so expensive now,” he says.

And another big part of the attraction, he adds, is the fact that filmed records of theater folklore and backstage travails aren’t as ephemeral as that single unique performance of a theater event.

“This will last,” he says of the DVDs. “It’s the antithesis of what live theater is.”

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