Most legit producers dream of winning a Tony Award. Bob Greenblatt was on a plane flying into New York from Los Angeles when the moment came for him on Sunday.
It’s no secret that the NBC Entertainment chairman harbors an abiding love for musical theater. His first big creative risk after taking the helm of NBC in January 2011 was the Broadway-centric “Smash,” and even if that bet didn’t pay off in the long run, last year’s broadcast of “The Sound of Music Live” sure did.
Less well-known, however, is Greenblatt’s longstanding involvement with “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which just collected four Tony Awards, including the top honor for new musical. The show’s eventful backstory encompasses a decade-long struggle to get to the stage as the tuner slowly accumulated a team of friends, supporters and eventually producers. Greenblatt, it turns out, was one of them.
He also has a hand in bringing writer Dick Scanlan and director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s reinvention of Meredith Willson’s 1960 musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” to the stage later this year. Greenblatt pitched in enhancement funds for the show’s opening this fall at the nonprofit Denver Center Theater Company.
Keeping NBC on the upswing — on the heels of the Peacock’s first season-long victory in the adults 18-49 demo in 10 years — clearly remains Greenblatt’s top priority. But the love of theater that led to his attachment to “Gentleman’s Guide” has had an obvious and favorable impact on the creative exec’s work at the network too.
“I know when ‘Sound of Music’ was announced there were people who thought, ‘Oh, there he goes again with musical theater,’” Greenblatt said over lunch in Gotham, a few days after his Tony win. “Clearly I like this stuff, but it’s not just me. ‘Sound of Music’? Twenty-two million people watched it.”
Greenblatt played a very hands-on role in overseeing “Sound of Music” — right down to sweating out the performance in the production truck during the telecast with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. That trio plan to capitalize on the family-friendly “event” that “Sound of Music” became with a followup tuner for this holiday season, “Peter Pan.” Greenblatt has promised the tuner made famous by Mary Martin will get a bit of a tune-up, and that the flying effects will dazzle on the small screen.
Greenblatt’s involvement in “Gentleman’s Guide” began in the wake of the 2009 opening of “9 to 5,” the Broadway musical Greenblatt produced during his tenure as entertainment president of Showtime. A mutual acquaintance suggested he take a look at a new tuner written by a couple of guys named Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman.
He found he liked both the project and the collaborators, and joined in the (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts to get the stage rights to the 1949 movie that was part of the inspiration for “Gentleman’s Guide,” “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” which starred Alec Guinness.
But then Greenblatt got the big job at NBC, an all-encompassing gig that made serving as lead producer of a new Broadway musical an unfeasible proposition. “I said to Robert and Steven, ‘Let’s just keep talking, and if I can help you, I’d love to,’” Greenblatt recalled.
He served as an unofficial advisor and cheerleader throughout the rest of the project’s downs (a legal battle over rights) and ups (a Hartford Stage premiere that scored an influential rave in the New York Times). When creatives decided the show needed some additional coin to beef up the tuner’s cast and orchestrations in advance of its spring 2013 run at San Diego’s Old Globe, Greenblatt ponied up.
With Joey Parnes (“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”) taking the helm to bring the musical to Broadway, the NBC exec remains on board as a producer and significant investor, listed in the playbill as Green State Prods.
He couldn’t be at the Tony ceremony to join his fellow producers onstage because he was on a plane that touched down in New York just as the night’s final winner was announced. But at least he made it to the musical’s post-Tony party, where he could savor being part of the team that helped the project persevere to become the toast of Broadway.
“Our little tortoise just kept going,” he said.
As for “Molly Brown,” that project also came to him when a mutual acquaintance, this time a legit agent, suggested he meet with Scanlan, who was already at work on a rights-holders-approved, page-one rewrite of the book. Greenblatt clicked with the project because he had always had a fondness for “Molly Brown” — and for the work of Willson, whose tuner “The Music Man” is one of the titles on the docket for a future NBC live broadcast.
The new incarnation of “Molly Brown” will run Sept. 12-Oct. 26 in Denver, where the real-life Brown settled after surviving the sinking of the Titanic. No future life for the production has yet been set, but if there is one, you can bet Greenblatt will be right there with it.