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Japanese Join Jujamcyn In Stroll Down B’Way

With no end in sight to the rising costs of new show development, Broadway’s smallest theater-owning group last week inked an investment partnership with Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi. The move significantly ups the growing Japanese profile on Broadway.

Jujamcyn Theaters – which owns the Virginia, St. James, Martin Beck, Walter Kerr and Eugene O’Neill theaters – partnered with the Japanese network for an initial three-year period.

First show under the partnership is the Marsha Norman/Lucy Simon tuner, “The Secret Garden,” which opened April 26 at the St. James. TV Asahi put up $500,000 of the $6.2 million capitalization. TV Asahi has also committed to Jujamcyn’s long-planned revival, currently slated for next spring, of “Guys And Dolls.” Jerry Zaks will direct.

TV Asahi will have the option of sharing up to half of Jujamcyn’s investment in new plays and musicals, and would share proportionately in the profits. The network also gains the right of first refusal on Japanese production and broadcasts.

In return, Jujamcyn gets a cushion similar to the one that the Shubert Organization has as a result of its 5-year-old arrangement with Suntory Intl. Corp. In that deal, however, Suntory goes in on every Shubert-produced show. TV Asahi retains the right to choose which Jujamcyn shows it wishes to participate in.

“This deal gives us more clout in the business,” says Jujamcyn president Rocco Landesman. “It makes the playing field more level in competing with Shubert and Nederlander. We’ll have a larger amount of capital and now, when we invest $2 million in a show, it won’t mean risking 20% of the company’s equity.”

Landesman said he began looking for an investment partner from the moment he took over Jujamcyn in September 1987 and had been approached by several companies. The match with TV Asahi was made by Hank Goldstein, partner in Grubman Indursky Schindler Goldstein & Flax, a key media and entertainment industry law firm.

TV Asahi’s theatrical venture, headed by cultural events director Hidekata Nishimura and vice-president Kenji Sudo, has been busy on Broadway and in the West End of London, having invested in “Sophisticated Ladies,” “My One And Only,” “Dreamgirls” and recent revivals of “West Side Story,” “Can-Can” and “South Pacific.”

Earlier this month, the company signed with Music Theater Intl. for control of licensing rights to stock and amateur productions. The company is also part of Japan Satellite Broadcasting, which has heavy coin in “The Will Rogers Follies,” opening this week at the Palace Theater.

Sudo said Asahi’s primary goal is cultural exchange and that broadcast of shows on Japanese tv is the least attractive aspect of the partnership because low ratings would never justify the expense.

“We want to introduce genuine American culture to the Japanese,” he said, adding that because of an ongoing availability crunch, Asahi may build its own theater in Tokyo.

“We’ve been involved in introducing Broadway shows to Japan, but the theater business is very immature,” Sudo said. “Jujamcyn is a young, aggressive, creative organization. We fell in love with the passion and enthusiasm of these producers.”

The partnership raises questions about the impact of such ventures on the type of shows being mounted on Broadway, the key one being: Do they reinforce the trend toward splashy spectacles at the expense of smaller shows? Asked whether TV Asahi would have input on selection of shows that Jujamcyn would produce, Landesman said that the deal allows both Jujamcyn and TV Asahi to pursue projects independently.

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