Producers John O’Boyle and Ricky Stevens don’t choose obvious blockbusters, to say the least.
In the last year, the pair has backed four Broadway shows, all long shots. Last spring, they supported “Radio Golf,” the political final chapter in August Wilson’s 10-part cycle; this year they were on the team behind “Is He Dead?” an untested farce written a century ago by Mark Twain, and “A Catered Affair,” a somber musical based on a little-remembered 1950s teleplay and film.
But those gambles pale compared with “Glory Days,” O’Boyle and Stevens’ first lead-producing gig, which opens on Broadway May 6.
With no stars, novice writers and an 11th-hour arrival at the close of a crowded Rialto season, the quirky tuner about teenage friendships is a quintessential underdog. But O’Boyle and Stevens say it makes more sense to move the show — which had a successful run earlier this year at Virginia’s Signature Theater — directly to the commercial big leagues, rather than to explore less mainstream options.
“We looked at it as a regional vehicle, as a touring vehicle, and an Off Broadway vehicle, and we couldn’t make any of the business models work,” Stevens says. “But once I did the business model for Broadway, we said, ‘It could work here.'”
The plan was partially contingent on luck: Both producers felt the tuner, which follows four high school friends reuniting after their freshman year at college, was perfectly suited to the intimate digs at Circle in the Square. When “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” announced it would vacate the theater, O’Boyle and Stevens lobbied hard to get that space. (Gossip suggested either “Next to Normal” or “[title of show]” would nab the venue, though the latter musical will now open at the Lyceum in July, and talk of “Normal” transferring from Off Broadway has evaporated.)
“We ran our model on the assumption that we might be able to get that theater,” O’Boyle says. “It’s not just a question of being on Broadway. It’s a question of being in the right space.”
“Everything just lined up,” adds Stevens. “We had no guarantee that things would come together like this in the fall.”
Yet even in a cozy house, a Rialto gig is a massive undertaking. And while the $2.5 million budget for “Glory” is relatively modest, it’s a hefty pricetag for such unknown material.
This is the first experience writing a show for scribes James Gardiner and Nick Blaemire, both still in their early 20s. And while composer-performer Lin-Manuel Miranda is in a similar boat this season with “In the Heights,” that musical was workshopped in a college production and commercially tested Off Broadway before it headed to the Richard Rodgers Theater.
“But we’re not seeing very many Off Broadway hits,” O’Boyle says. “If you’ve got a $1 million budget Off Broadway or a $2.5 million budget on Broadway, you’re better off taking a chance on Broadway. It comes with a higher ticket price and the accessibility to a larger audience.”
The next question is where those audiences will come from. Arriving in Gotham with scant notice, “Glory Days” has had to build a brand identity almost simultaneously with the start of performances — with unknown actors and without a title people recognize from another medium.
If nothing else, the “Glory Days” poster, with Warhol-style renderings of four teenage faces, seems to be swallowing midtown Manhattan, though in its first week of previews, the show played to well under 50% capacity.
“Our advance is up in the range where ‘Passing Strange’ was when they opened, so I feel like we’re doing a good job,” Stevens says, referring to a show that has struggled to attract audiences, both in previews and since opening to glowing reviews. “Because even more than ‘Passing Strange,’ we came in overnight.” (He declined to reveal the total advance for “Glory Days.”)
No matter how it performs, the imprimatur of a Broadway run can boost the show’s chances for future productions. Given that it’s a one-set, four-actor, 90-minute piece about teenagers, the addition of Rialto credibility could make the musical catnip for companies seeking young auds. (And young men, the holiest of holy grails among theater demographics, may be more interested in a show that’s ostensibly about their lives.)
Stevens says preview auds have been a mix of twentysomethings and the more traditional Broadway base of older women. He credits the universality of the plot, which he says drew him to the project in the first place.
“We all go to school and have friends, and, at some point, we grow apart or lose touch,” he adds. “We’re lucky that this story is the kind of thing we all go through.”