NEW YORK — A hit for the nonprofit Lincoln Center Theater might not deliver the same financial pop as a hit for commercial producers, but it still has plenty of benefits.
For one thing, the multiple Tony-winning Adam Guettel tuner “The Light in the Piazza” — whose extended run has played in LCT’s Broadway house, the Vivian Beaumont, since last March — has helped pave the way for the theater’s latest coup: LCT will present the first ever Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “South Pacific,” directed by “Piazza” helmer Bartlett Sher, during its 2007-2008 season.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which controls the rights to the 1949 musical, has carefully kept the show off Broadway for more than 50 years, despite a constant siege of hopeful producers.
“There was no great plan to guard ‘South Pacific’ closely,” says R&H Org prexy Ted Chapin, just a resistance to flooding the market with tuners from the pair.
Now, though, with the “Oklahoma!” revival a few years past and a surge of interest in the wake of a one-night-only concert staging at Carnegie Hall last May, Chapin says the time felt right.
How did the LCT score the show? A strong production of a musical by Guettel, who is Richard Rodgers’ grandson, didn’t hurt.
LCT artistic director Andre Bishop had lobbied for years to revive the show.
“Finally, Andre said, ‘What if we try to use some of the “Piazza” team?’ ” says Chapin. “And I just thought, ‘Oh, he’s right.’ ”
Bishop plans for the production to concentrate as much on the book as the familiar score (“Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” “Happy Talk,” “Bali Ha’i”).
“If you read about the original production, it was highly Stanislavsky-like in its character relationships, in its pauses, with a great deal of subtext,” Bishop says.
Casting has not yet been discussed. Nor has the question of what, if any, changes will be made to the show, particularly in its depiction of the prejudices that arise from the story’s interracial romances.
“I think it’s in the world of the play, and if you’re afraid of it, you shouldn’t go anywhere near it,” Chapin says. “If it’s well enough played, we’ll realize the prejudice is not as gone from our sphere as we like to think.”
“South Pacific” isn’t the only ambitious undertaking on LCT’s plate.
Along with “Piazza,” which LCT exec producer Bernie Gersten estimates will run through July, the next show to go into the Beaumont is actually three shows: “The Coasts of Utopia,” the nine-hour trilogy by Tom Stoppard about 19th-century Russian intellectuals, the first part of which is set for the fall.
And in the next two to three years, the LCT complex, which houses the approximately 1,050-seat Vivian Beaumont for its Broadway runs and the 299-seat Mitzi E. Newhouse for Off Broadway entries, will add a third performance space, to be called the Jerome L. Greene LCTx.
A black box with less than 100 seats and a planned ticket price of roughly $10, the Greene will serve as an Off Off Broadway venue that LCT will program.
“The focus there will be on younger writers, younger directors, new designers,” Bishop says. “What we will do with the new space is bring in a whole new generation of everything.”
Before all that materializes, though, LCT has a Broadway revival of Clifford Odets’ play “Awake and Sing,” starring Ben Gazzara, Lauren Ambrose and Zoe Wanamaker, skedded for an April opening at the Belasco (in lieu of the occupied Beaumont). The Newhouse will see the new tuner from Michael John LaChiusa, “Bernarda Alba,” in February, followed this summer by the latest from Richard Greenberg, “The House in Town,” and the much-anticipated Gotham preem of Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House” in the fall.
“Piazza,” meanwhile, continues to sell, repping LCT’s biggest hit since “Contact,” which closed in 2002.
Sure, the show has not recouped in the commercial sense of the word. So far, it has earned approximately $1.7 million more than its running costs — less than half of the $4.6 million it took to mount.
But then, being a nonprofit with an average $25 million-$27 million annual operating budget already accounted for, the 20-year-old org never expected even to make that $1.7 million. As Gersten likes to phrase it, “We get second use of the money.”
That income can help balance any deficit from LCT’s critically praised but financially disappointing run of Edward Albee’s “Seascape,” which closed Jan. 8. The company also scored a sellout run this season with the premiere of Wendy Wasserstein’s “Third” in the Newhouse.
And, of course, the extra funds will help LCT in its mission to “produce a wide variety of work as beautifully and exquisitely as possible,” as Bishop puts it.
That takes cash. “We constantly use up all the money,” Gersten says with a laugh.