Key Off B’way landlords join ranks of producers

NEW YORK – The demand for Off Broadway’s premiere theaters is about to get more demanding: Ben Sprecher and William P. Miller, co-owners of the Promenade and Variety Arts theaters, will fill their much-sought-after Promenade with a co-production of their own next fall.

The production of “2 Pianos, 4 Hands” signals the duo’s plans to produce shows for their theaters, rather than merely book the houses with other producers’ projects. The play, written and performed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, will open at the Promenade on Oct. 30 and be co-produced by Toronto’s David Mirvish.

A second Sprecher-Miller production, John Peilmeier’s thriller “Voices in the Dark,” was intended for the Variety Arts, Sprecher said, but booking demands for that theater prompted the producers to open the play on Broadway next fall. “Voices” will be directed by Christopher Ashley (“Jeffrey,” “Blown Sideways Through Life”) and Sprecher said negotiations with a film star for the female lead are under way; casting will be announced next month.

The demand for Off Broadway houses has been unusually heavy this season, with a lengthy roster of productions circling the runways for clearance. A producer of the quick-closing “Julia Sweeney’s God Said ‘Ha!’ ” said recently that the show opted for a Broadway staging only when no suitable Off Broadway theater was available.

But Sprecher said the demand is cyclical, and that even the 399-seat Promenade has had dark months. “I decided to get involved as a producer so as not to be victimized by the constant swing of the marketplace,” he said.

The Promenade, located in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood, currently is booked with Jon Marans’ “Old Wicked Songs.” When that play closes, probably sometime this winter, Boston import “Jackie” (a comedy bio of Jackie Kennedy Onassis) will settle in for a run.

Even if “Jackie” is a hit, the play will have to vacate by October, when “2 Pianos, 4 Hands” arrives. “Pianos,” a comic look at its creators’ obsession with mastering the musical instrument, premiered at Toronto’s Tarragon Theater in March to favorable reviews.

The Variety Arts, Sprecher/Miller’s 499-seater, has had a spottier track record than the Promenade, its East Village location occasionally cited by producers as less desirable. But even the Variety Arts has several shows waiting in the wings when Peter Feibleman’s “Cakewalk,” which opened to mixed notices last month, eventually vacates.

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