Big Easy does it Broadway-style

New Orleans hopes to bring in tryout shows

There’s Boston and San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle and Denver. Now New Orleans is aiming to make the list of potential tryout towns for Broadway shows.

A post-Katrina economic revitalization initiative called Broadway South — modeled on the Louisiana Film Tax Incentive — was signed into law in July in an effort to tempt producers to bring live performances to Louisiana.

Any live production, including Broadway-bound musicals, initiated in the state will, according to the law, receive tax credits ranging from between 10% for an investment between $100,000 and $300,000 to 25% for more than $1 million.

“What New Orleans could provide is a cost-effective way to handle that all-important phase one, the out-of-town tryout,” says Roger Wilson, the thesp, writer and businessman who originated Broadway South. (His CV includes a major role in “Porky’s,” surely the awesomest acting credit ever.)

“It’s like a constant reward for originating your show in New Orleans,” Wilson adds. According to him, the incentive can account for as much as 35% of a production budget, taking into account the initiative’s other potential givebacks.

Wilson touts the Big Easy’s convention center, growing cruise ship industry, 38,000 hotel rooms and tourist-drawing history as attractions for Rialto producers. And, encouraged by the recent surge in grosses on Broadway, he hopes to infuse some of that legit cash into the city and state’s rejuvenation efforts.

What New Orleans doesn’t have yet, however, is a theater suitable for housing a Broadway show.

The four Beaux Arts theaters on Canal Street, totaling around 10,000 seats in a single city block, all require renovation. But Wilson hopes that the government package of rebuilding incentives, which can offer up to 80¢ back on each dollar spent, will get the reconstruction going as early as spring of next year.

Whether Broadway South will put New Orleans on the live-performance map remains to be seen. “What really has to happen now is the free market has to react to it,” Wilson says.

The potential upside isn’t just economic, he contends; it’s also cultural. “There’s nothing like this kind of entertainment for the 100 million people who live in this area,” he says. “There’s not a lot to do down here.”


Turns out a lot of folks have the appetite for a fourth helping of “Tuna.”

“Tuna Does Vegas,” the fourth installment in the series of multicharacter two-handers that began in the 1980s with “Greater Tuna,” did boffo biz in its premiere run this summer in Galveston, Texas. And this time around, the three creators, director Ed Howard and thesps Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, produced the show, too.

“We felt like we needed to take hold of our product,” Williams says. “We thought the best way to do that was to create something new.”

Hence: “Tuna Does Vegas,” in which the quirky residents of Tuna, Texas, all played by Sears and Williams, head to Sin City to encounter the wacky denizens of Vegas, also played by Sears and Williams. (Howard, as usual, directs.)

The show pulled in more than $800,000 for an extended three-week run at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston in August, a traditionally sleepy time for the venue.

“In the past, we’ve tried programming in the summer, and it’s never been that successful,” says Maureen M. Patton, exec director of the Grand. ” ‘Tuna Does Vegas’ was a huge success for us.”

An October stint has already broken a sales record at Austin’s Paramount Theater, and future tour plans would consider other enthusiastic “Tuna” markets such as Washington, D.C., Nashville, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles — and Vegas.

Many legiters likely know the small-town comedy “Greater Tuna” — or one of its sequels, “A Tuna Christmas” and “Red, White and Tuna” — as staples of the regional, amateur and stock circuits. The constant performance of the shows, by the creators and by others, has made them solid earners. “It’s been a very steady stream of income for us,” Williams says.

In order to self-produce “Vegas,” the theaters in Galveston and Austin helped with some pre-production costs, and the producing trio dipped into savings.

It worked out. “We’ve made more money, and the production is in the black,” Williams says, talking like a producer.

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