Producers eye Marquis for seasonal production

Though “Cry-Baby” has shed its last tear, the Marquis Theater on Times Square might not be vacant for long. Lead producers Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller are looking to bring their seasonal touring production “White Christmas” to Broadway for a holiday engagement starting before Thanksgiving — provided they can make the tough limited-run economics work.

Word had been circulating in the legit community even before “Cry-Baby” announced it was closing June 22 that “White Christmas,” the musical developed from Paramount’s 1954 Bing Crosby starrer with tunes by Irving Berlin, was eyeing the Marquis.

“I’d love to have it come in,” McCollum told Daily Variety. “The timing is right for it to happen if everyone gets on board. But it’s an economic Rubik’s cube right now because I don’t have the rules in place that could make it work.”

The touring production, headed by McCollum and Seller’s Producing Office, premiered at San Francisco’s Curran Theater in November 2004 and has played successful holiday engagements since then in Boston, Los Angeles and Toronto.

The plan for New York is for a 7½-week run, with nine performances per week. On a big musical with 24 musicians and a cast of more than 30, that means only a handful of Rialto theaters, like the 1,611-seat Marquis are viable. The show would have to play close to capacity, grossing $1.2 million or more per week in order to be successful.

“It’s a tremendous risk,” said McCollum. “The people who will benefit from working on this show — all the unions, the theater owners, the other producers — have to want it as much as I do.”

“My dilemma is that we’re trying to make Broadway more flexible,” McCollum continued. “It would be great for Broadway to have a show the size of ’42nd Street’ seasonally. But the community needs to create a structure for shows running under 10 weeks.”

While limited engagements of two-to-three months are common for star-driven event plays, making a large-scale musical work on such a tight schedule is a more challenging prospect.

The recent model for a holiday booking on Broadway is that of Running Subway Prods.’ “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical!” That show succeeded by playing a grueling 12 perfs per week for 11 weeks in the 2006-07 season, but the profitability of its return engagement over the past holidays was thwarted when the Broadway stagehands strike over Thanksgiving threw off the recoupment schedule. Christmas-themed shows rarely manage to sustain an audience far into January.

No plans so far have been announced by the “Grinch” producers to return to New York this year, meaning “White Christmas” would be clear of seasonal Broadway competition. However, the clock is ticking to get a marketing strategy in place, given that “The Radio City Christmas Spectacular” already has begun advertising and selling tickets for its upcoming holiday run.

McCollum, whose company recently collected a Tony for “In the Heights” and is also repped on Broadway by “Rent” and “Avenue Q,” maintains that concessions still need to be made on issues that were central to the stagehands strike, particularly regarding load-in terms for new productions.

“No one’s getting rich on this show, but it’s providing work,” he said.

Even if “White Christmas” fails to recoup in its initial run on Broadway, McCollum believes the enterprise will have value in establishing a property with strong return-engagement potential, in strengthening the show as a touring vehicle, and expanding the existing business model for other producers of short runs.

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