The experience of Boyett Ostar, the producing entity responsible for ushering Brit hit “The History Boys” to Broadway glory and Tony triumph, shows that there are no hard and fast rules for trans-Atlantic transfers.
“I love working between London and Broadway,” says Bob Boyett, who with producing partner Bill Haber this year extended Boyett Ostar’s first-look pact to bring shows from Britain’s National Theater to the U.S. “But I commit more quickly to being an investor in a London show because you don’t feel the financial pressure of Broadway or that waiting game of getting a New York theater.”
Also, “People in London tend to be open to a wider range of theatrical experiences, so you’re at a much greater risk in New York,” he adds.
Boyett Ostar has brought in plays with their London casts, Alan Bennett’s “History Boys” and Tom Stoppard’s “Jumpers,” and two more recast with American actors for their Broadway runs, Michael Frayn’s “Democracy” and Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman.”
“There really is no formula for what works and what doesn’t,” Boyett admits.
The first two productions were commercially underwhelming. “Jumpers” was a succes d’estime that seduced critics but failed to find a substantial audience while “Democracy” received a more mixed response than in London, its New York box office struggling after a solid opening.
“I think we knew even before we opened that ‘Jumpers’ was not going to be a profitable show, but it was a great way for us to begin our relationship with the National,” Boyett confesses. “With ‘Democracy,’ clearly a limited number of people found the subject matter (European politics) appealing, but maybe we made some mistakes with the marketing,” he adds.
However, “Pillowman” drew raves from critics and repaid its investment despite a grim subject (an author being interrogated for infanticide) that many predicted was too dark for Broadway. “I had more concerns with how to sell that show than ‘History Boys,’ which frankly, had tremendous buzz even before we arrived,” Boyett offers.
Boyett Ostar is fine-tuning plans to import “Sunday in the Park With George” (angling for either spring or fall 2007) and the National’s “Coram Boy” (likely for February), both of which will have all new American casts. The producing team also is in early talks to bring over Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and Frayn’s “Donkeys’ Years.”
“Our arrangement with the National has allowed us to establish relationships with writers like Stoppard and Frayn and get involved with them on other projects,” Boyett says. “The only thing the plays we go for have in common is they’re all high-quality.”