B'way producers look to the Left Coast for fare
After the Tony face-off between “Jersey Boys” and “The Drowsy Chaperone,” legit mavens are asking if West Coast regional theaters can do it again this season.
With comparatively few new tuners being groomed for Broadway in the East, producers again are looking at transfers from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. It’s a promising crop, but with musicals (as with comedy), it all depends on timing.
The West Coast will not be the exclusive supplier of Broadway shows this season. Competish will come from Blighty (“Mary Poppins”) and other U.S. cities like Boston (“High Fidelity”), making the fight for attention that much more heated.
Los Angeles will world premiere the final tuner from Kander & Ebb, “Curtains,” a backstage murder-mystery set in 1959 Boston, beginning July 25 at the Ahmanson, the same venue where “Drowsy Chaperone” made its U.S. debut.
“By the time it opens, it could have a Broadway home,” one producer notes. But Tony fallout could determine whether the tuner will go to New York promptly after the L.A. run closes Sept. 10, or if it will wait for a theater to open in the new year.
James Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Debra Black and Hal Luftig will be presenting the Twyla Tharp-Bob Dylan piece “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” this fall in New York, though no home has been announced. The show premiered in February at the Old Globe Theater and is expected to be the 17th production sent from the San Diego theater to Broadway.
Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater, which world-premiered “Hairspray” and “The Wedding Singer,” will do the same for “Cry-Baby,” beginning Feb. 13. Plan is to get the tuner version of the John Waters film into a Broadway home as the Tony-voting season is closing.
“Legally Blonde” lathers up at San Francisco’s Orpheum in January and has an opening night of April 26 penciled in on Broadway. Also springboarding from S.F. bows to the Rialto are “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me” and the revival of “A Chorus Line.”
The Dylan tuner, a love story set in a traveling circus, plans to make a few changes from its West Coast production. Tharp has made references to alterations for the Broadway version, noting that San Diego audiences have played “an invaluable part in the continued development of the show.”
Up the road in La Jolla, producers would certainly like to see “Zhivago” make the journey that “Jersey Boys” did last year from the Des McAnuff-run Playhouse. (McAnuff announced last week that he will step down from the a.d. post in April but will continue thereafter as director emeritus). Tuner opened May 24 to mostly positive reviews. McAnuff also has another potential Broadway contender in La Jolla’s revival of “The Wiz” later this year.
“There has always been pressure and expectation,” McAnuff says of Broadway transfers. “But as far as I’m concerned, when I’m doing a show here, it’s for La Jolla. I think the second you start thinking you’re going to Broadway, that’s when you’re done for. In fact, we have a rule that nobody’s allowed to mention the ‘B’ word.”
A longshot for a Broadway slot this season would be the musical version of “The Opposite of Sex,” playing at Williamstown Theater Festival in August after a cool reception to its San Francisco premiere last year. Chicago’s Marriott Lincolnshire Theater opens July 5 with “Once Upon a Time in New Jersey,” which could draw attention if notices are good.
In mid-December, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater will unveil its production of “The Three Musketeers” from the “Moll Flanders” songwriting team of George Stiles and Paul Leigh. Tuner spent the 1990s in development and went in and out of workshops until it received a full production in San Jose, Calif., in 2001. It has had a history of attracting Broadway and West End producers and may well again.
But with few shows shuttering in the wake of Tonys, the shortage of available theaters has made many observers wonder where the new work will go.
“In the next year, musicals will be going into playhouses, meaning smaller musicals will have greater appeal (than straight plays),” says producer Rich Willis, who runs Richmark Entertainment in Los Angeles with Martin Markinson, owner of Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater.
“There’s not a surplus of great, quality plays, and the ones that make it to Broadway are likely to be driven by names,” Willis predicts, suggesting that producers would prefer to build on the appeal of a tuner sans stars than take a chance with a straight play featuring established stage thesps.
Regional theaters have a far better track record of shepherding musicals to Broadway than they do plays.
The Kennedy Center in D.C. shipped “On Golden Pond” with James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams to the Rialto two seasons back. Next season will see a “Butley” revival due in October toplining Nathan Lane, which originated at Boston’s Huntington; and Matthew Broderick in Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Starry Messenger,” which runs Jan. 19-Feb. 18 at the Old Globe before moving to Broadway in April.
“As it gets more and more difficult to wait for word of mouth to develop, Broadway will continue to rely on stars that appeal to movie fans,” Willis notes.
Adding to the potential logjam are two homegrown projects.
Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons delivers “Grey Gardens” to the Walter Kerr on Nov. 2. Watchful eyes also are focusing on the Duncan Sheik-Steven Sater rock musical “Spring Awakening.” The Atlantic Theater Company extended the show’s run into August on the strength of positive reviews and solid initial box office. A transfer has been hinted at, but it remains unclear if that would be at an Off Broadway or Broadway house.
(David Rooney and Gordon Cox in New York contributed to this report.)