Broadway revival grew from past collaborations

NEW YORK — It’s all about relationships in “Death of a Salesman” — father-son, husband-wife, brother-brother.

The same could be said for the current, strong-selling revival of Arthur Miller’s landmark drama, which hit Broadway this spring in a production marked by the longstanding ties among its collaborators — a creative family, with its own deep roots.

Producer Scott Rudin had first worked with helmer Mike Nichols as a casting director of the Nichols-produced Broadway bow of “Annie,” which began its six-year run on Broadway in 1977, and has since collaborated on films with Nichols including 2004’s “Closer.”

“Salesman” sprang initially from a conversation Nichols had about the play with topliner Philip Seymour Hoffman, with whom Nichols had worked in a 2001 Shakespeare in the Park production of “The Seagull.” Rudin had first worked with Hoffman on 1994 pic “Nobody’s Fool.” More recently, Hoffman had starred in the Rudin-produced “Doubt” in 2008.

Meanwhile, Andrew Garfield, who joined the “Salesman” cast as son Biff to Hoffman’s Willy Loman, had just worked with Rudin on “The Social Network.” And Linda Emond, who stars as Willy’s wife Linda, had acted in all the developmental workshops of the stage version of “The Year of Magical Thinking,” produced by Rudin.

It’s a tight web of familiarity that has helped mold the production, according to the revival’s creators. “There’s a thing that happens with continued collaborations,” Rudin says. “You engage in the work with a feeling of complete safety.”

Nichols agrees, noting that, for instance, he first collaborated with costume designer Ann Roth when he directed “The Odd Couple” in 1965.

“We have a language that we’ve developed over the decades,” Nichols says. “The same with Scott. He is a producer who is your partner and who thinks of things you haven’t thought of and is constantly by your side.”

Enhancing the all-in-the-family feel was an intensive workshop three and a half months prior to the start of rehearsals that gathered together key members of the cast — which also includes Finn Wittrock, John Glover and Bill Camp, among others — for three weeks of digging into the script.

Both the workshop and the subsequent downtime were crucial to cementing the bond among the cast, Nichols says. “We had taken a startling leap while we were away from the play,” he says. “It grows when you’re not paying attention to it.”

Box office for “Salesman” began on solid ground and has grown to break house records at the Barrymore Theater, despite playing only seven perfs per week rather than the traditional eight (in a concession to the rigors of the play and its central role).

The numbers really began to pick up once the show had been running a few weeks and in the wake of largely glowing reviews generated by the March 15 opening — suggesting both word of mouth and good press have had a hand in boosting B.O.

Both Nichols, for whom the original production of “Salesman” proved a defining moment as a young theatergoer, and Rudin point out the surprising relevance of the 1948 play’s take on American ideals of wealth, money, class and success. In fact, Nichols opines, these days the play’s depiction of striving for success in hard times feels even more universally resonant.

“It’s much more a Willy Loman world now that everybody’s a salesman on Facebook,” he says.

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