Presenters turn into major drama queens

Road season stocked with five plays, including 'Doubt'

Create a big gap on the road, and sometimes good things fill it up.

Take the current tour season, which boasts no fewer than five plays: “Doubt,” “Legends,” “On Golden Pond,” “12 Angry Men” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Isn’t that a little more nonmusical fare than usual?

“That’s an understatement,” says Meredith Blair, prexy at the Booking Group, which has put “12 Angry Men” and “Legends” into theaters across America. “Five is an extraordinary number.”

“I can’t think of another road season with five,” says Stephen Lindsay, prexy at the Road Company, which handles “Doubt.” “Usually only one or two plays will tour in any given season,” he says, referring to recent productions of “Art,” “The Graduate,” “Proof” and “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”

It might be nice to think the 2006-07 season signals a play trend. But think again.

“A couple of different circumstances have converged here,” Blair explains. “All at once, there happened to be a grouping of viable plays, and there weren’t a lot of interesting musicals.”

Also, some of the tuners got a bit pricey. “Nonmusicals are typically much more affordable,” says Lindsay. “They fill a certain slot in any presenter’s Broadway series. The mega-musicals are very expensive, and there is less midrange product today.”

The behemoths like “The Lion King” and “Wicked” four-wall. Other musicals tend to come with guarantees in the high $300,000s plus 10% of the box office. A play, on the other hand, guarantees in the high $100,000s.

For most theaters, however, the play rule holds: Once is enough. The anomaly of a two- or three-play booking remains the exception, and graces only a handful of theaters, like D.C.’s Eisenhower Theater (“12 Angry Men,” “Woolf”) and San Francisco’s Curran (“Doubt,” “Woolf”).

Circumstance, coupled with necessity, has brought a whopping three plays (“Doubt,” “12 Angry Men,” “Woolf”) to L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, marking a big switch from its 2005-06 sked.

“Last season, there were few shows — plays or musicals — that were viable for a house this size,” artistic director Michael Ritchie says of the 2,000-seat Ahmanson. “So we self-produced the entire season. This season, there were a lot more products coming from Broadway.” Hence, the drama binge.

TV star power on the road

If stars no longer tour, especially in musicals, then plays on tour this season come larded with actors who at least boast significant TV pedigree.

Whether tube titans Richard Thomas and George Wendt or Tom Bosley and Michael Learned qualify as stars on Broadway remains open to question, but on the road they have definitely spurred interest in “12 Angry Men” and “On Golden Pond,” respectively.

“12 Angry Men” is going out under the auspices of the Roundabout Theater Company, it being the nonprofit’s first attempt at producing a national tour. According to artistic director Todd Haimes, the bookers responded positively to a tour “as long as you can get a couple of name actors.”

Thomas and Wendt more than qualified, giving the 30-week “12 Angry Men” tour the second highest number of actor work weeks on the road in at least a decade, second only to “The Graduate,” which performed 62 weeks.

When Richard Chamberlain and Hayley Mills pulled out of the “On Golden Pond” tour, producer Jeffrey Finn replaced them with Bosley and Learned. “I wanted to go with two recognizable TV faces, people we welcome into our homes in family dramas. Bosley and Learned are among America’s favorite dads and moms.”

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” boasts an erstwhile movie star, Kathleen Turner, while “Doubt” has the actress who beat her in the 2005 Tony race, Cherry Jones.

For sheer name recognition, however, no touring show in recent memory can top the “Legends” pairing of Joan Collins and Linda Evans, not seen together since their halcyon days on “Dynasty” more than 16 years ago. Having booked his show for September (Toronto) through early May 2007 (Raleigh, N.C.), producer Ben Sprecher now can clock off several potential routes for next summer and fall. “Broadway, England and Australia have all been offered,” says Sprecher, who is weighing all three options.

But when it comes to mega-exposure, his biggest success so far has nothing to do with legit. His “Legends” duo recently locked up a one-hour interview with Larry King. Now what other tour producer can claim that?

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