It is time to express the minority, contrarian opinion that the 2001-02 Broadway season was nothing short of miraculous.
The major marvel of Broadway 2001-02 is that 34 shows are now running 20-odd weeks after Sept. 11. Hello? Have people forgotten? During the week of Sept. 17-23, Daily Variety reported a jaw-dropping total gross of $3.6 million for 24 productions! Five promptly closed and dire reports from intelligent observers foresaw only 10 shows, if that, on the boards by end of January.
Runner-up award for biggest miracle of the season, however, must be shared by a cluster of four provocative works that challenge and, hopefully, will expand our very definition of a Broadway show. How ever did Edward Albee’s “The Goat,” Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses,” Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog” and Greg Kotis & Mark Hollmann’s “Urinetown” end up on Broadway together during a recession, no less, each with a good shot at a top Tony?
George Lane has repped both Suzan-Lori Parks and Edward Albee for nearly a decade. However, it is the two playwrights’ respective long-term relationships with the Public Theater’s George C. Wolfe and commercial producers Elizabeth I. McCann and Daryl Roth that the William Morris agent credits with giving these two scribes their current Times Square berths.
Prior to the Public’s “Topdog” preem last summer, Lane sent the play to “Proof” producer Carole Shorenstein Hays, who immediately talked up a commercial production with Wolfe and legit attorney John Breglio. Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams attended it in previews and quickly came aboard for a possible Broadway transfer.
“Those five people reacted ferociously against a market place that was going into a recession,” says Lane. “You find that commitment to a project in individuals. Finding it in a group of people, each of whom comes from a different corner, is very rare.”
‘The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?’
Back in 1994, McCann and producer Daryl Roth gambled with an Off Broadway debut for Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.” It came a decade after the playwright’s previous work, “The Man Who Had Three Arms,” tanked on Broadway, signaling a long, dry spell for the scribe. “Women” revived his reputation, won him his third Pulitzer Prize but, most important, it gave him two new producers who championed his work.
“It would have been a challenge on or Off Broadway,” Roth says of “The Goat.” Albee’s subject matter scotched potential marketing tie-ins and presumably alienated ticket-buyers. In the May awards sweepstakes, however, the play about bestiality has been winning the best-play honors.
“When edgy material like ‘The Goat’ or ‘Topdog’ happens on Broadway, the producers are doing it in defiance of reality,” says George C. Wolfe. “And that makes for the most exciting theater.”
Whether or not “The Goat” production eventually moves into the black, Roth says the Broadway exposure has sparked interest at regional theaters eager to present a new Albee play.
Similar thoughts of subsidiary rights motivated Dodger Theatricals to move its edgy tuner about the fee-to-pee to Broadway.
As with “Topdog” and “The Goat,” the musical’s journey to Broadway hinged on well-established professional relationships. “Proof” author David Auburn had worked with director John Rando and Hollmann at the Berkshire Theater Festival, and it was he who recommended “Urinetown” in its 1999 Fringe Festival incarnation to his agent, William Craver of Writers & Artists, and the Araca Group’s Michael and Matthew Rego, who had produced Auburn’s first play, “Skyscraper.” When Rando subsequently came aboard as director of the Araca’s “Urinetown” reading, it was Craver who got Dodgers partner Michael David to attend.
“It was a fortuitous convergence of clients,” says Craver, who now counts Hollmann and Kotis among them.
At Second Stage, previews for “Metamorphoses” began on Sept. 19, and audiences badgered by current events immediately responded to the play’s healing theme of redemption and rebirth. Mary Zimmerman’s meditation on the myths of Ovid had already clocked in four extended sold-out runs at regional theaters.
“It is incredibly timely show,” says Carole Rothman of Second Stage, “not that we could have planned it that way.”
When “Metamorphoses” finally opened on Oct. 9, two commercial producers approached the artistic director that very night. Robyn Goodman, who had co-founded Second Stage with Rothman two decades earlier, wondered aloud, “Is this commercial?”
In producer Roy Gabay’s opinion, the media focus for serious drama had suddenly switched from Off Broadway back to Broadway. “For a while there, you couldn’t miss Off Broadway,” he says of those three consecutive Pulitzer Prize winners: “How I Learned to Drive,” “Wit” and “Dinner With Friends.” The more recent back-to-back Broadway successes of “Copenhagen” and “Proof” signaled the change.
There can’t be much question which show Rothman has in mind for the big Tony; nonetheless, she appreciates the company of the other three. “None of these are traditional commercial works,” she says of “Metamorphoses,” “Urinetown,” “The Goat” and “Topdog.”
“The talent behind them has been given a lot of exposure. Great things are going to happen because of their being on Broadway.”
Foremost could be our radically expanded definition of those three words “a Broadway show.”